This Way Ahead: Real Opportunities & High Expectations

I was born and raised in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. I’m the youngest of four children, and I’m a twin. My mom has worked as a paraprofessional for the Department of Education for more than 20 years. As a single mother, she has always worked so hard to provide for us. But, I’ve watched her struggle — I don’t want to struggle.

Bensonhurst is a melting pot. Within 20 blocks you can find Chinatown, Little Italy and a vibrant Jewish Community — so many people from so many different cultures live there. The place we grew up in particular is considered ‘the hood.’ I lost my cousin to gang violence. A lot of kids in my neighborhood don’t venture out – they don’t know they have options. There’s so much violence, and with that violence comes surveillance and suspicion. It can be hard to see anything else.

I was recruited for Gap Inc.’s This Way Ahead program during my junior year at the High School of Fashion Industries. I had worked at a family restaurant, but this was a chance to work retail – a chance to get my first real job.

This Way Ahead provides young people from low-income communities with real opportunities and high expectations. I like that the process is competitive; not everyone who applies gets picked.

Students learn key job skills at The Door, Gap Inc.’s This Way Ahead nonprofit partner in New York City, where Kumari took her job readiness courses before her internship at Gap.

Students learn key job skills at The Door, Gap Inc.’s This Way Ahead nonprofit partner in New York City, where Kumari took her job readiness courses before her internship at Gap.

We started with eight weeks of job training on everything from how to deal with customers and multi-tasking to how to save money and think about credit — things you just don’t learn in high school or college. I landed an internship at the Gap in Brooklyn. And at end of the internship, I got offered a job.

Family is everything to me, so I love working in the kids’ section of the store. When a mom comes in with her kids and says they want something stylish but inexpensive, I understand where they’re coming from. It keeps me humble and reminds me that a lot of people are struggling financially, not just me. I make it my mission to help them.

This Way Ahead made me confident. I don’t second-guess myself anymore.

Having a real job at such a young age and the mentoring and training to go along with it improved my communication skills and taught me to see things through with every customer.

Now, I’m a sophomore at Marymount University in Virginia. My twin sister and I are working to become the first ones in our family to graduate from college. Last year, the money I made working at the Gap was enough to pay for my books, my food and my laundry. All the little things you need to survive in college, I didn’t have to ask my mom for – I took care of it myself.

Making my own money has given me a sense of independence and responsibility. Whenever I’m home to visit or on a break from school, the Gap puts me back on the schedule. Working there is helping me make ends meet.

My big dream is to become an interior designer for Gensler in Washington D.C. I love their focus on sustainability, and how hard they work to ensure their design meets the needs of the community. I want to get my mom out of the projects and live in the house I’ve always dreamed of. I just keep telling myself, if I put in the work, if I maintain a mindset of success, I’ll reach my goal.

Without This Way Ahead, I could have been stuck thinking all that existed was the life I saw outside my front door. Young people need to be challenged to see what the world has to offer them, not confined to one zip-code or have assumptions made about their character.

I’m grateful to Gap Inc. for providing opportunities for young people no matter where they come from. I hope other companies will do the same. They might just be surprised by what they find.

Last week, Gap Inc. made a commitment to expand This Way Ahead. Bobbi Silten, Executive Vice President, Global Talent and Sustainability, announced that the company’s long-term goal is to shift its hiring model so that by 2025, 5% of entry-level new store hires will come from This Way Ahead, which equates to approximately 5,000 employees per year.

The GradsofLifeVoice Forbes team provides thought leadership, research and expert commentary on innovative talent pipelines and related issues such as the skills gap, income inequality, workforce diversity, and the business case for employment pathways. We seek to change employers’ perceptions of young adults with atypical resumes from social liabilities to economic assets. This post was originally featured here.

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