How A Year-long Program Prepared Me For Success At A Social Venture Startup

I have few memories of my native country, Honduras. The rustling of mango trees, the relief provided by a cool rain shower, and the smell of coffee brewing on the stovetop. I left Honduras when I was five years old for the United States, a place my mom called the land of opportunity. She knew that to be successful there, I would have to work hard even as a child. I was encouraged to read as many books as possible. It was challenging and sometimes frustrating, but from this young age, I gained an appreciation for education and lifelong learning.

When it came time for college, however, I was less prepared than I expected. Due to a misunderstanding with my FAFSA, my college offered me significantly less financial aid than I needed, so I found myself scrambling to pay for tuition while trying to find my way in this new environment. Unhealthy habits kicked in, I was underperforming in my classes, and I wasn’t able to make the most of the learning opportunity. At one point, I sat down and asked myself, what is driving me? What am I passionate about? All I could think about was my dad’s voice saying “If you don’t know, then who will?” I decided to take some time away from school to reevaluate my path.

The moment I came in for an info session at Year Up, I knew it was the place for me. Year Up is an organization that provides young adults with technical and professional skills training, mentoring, and an internship experience in the corporate setting. The program introduced me to the Information Technology field, and taught me to take initiative for seeking out opportunities for growth and leadership.

During my time at Year Up, I provided my input to help build the curriculum for a new frontline sales training track and served as a Student Ambassador, promoting Year Up to community partners and potential students. With this leadership opportunity, I spoke at events about our country’s Opportunity Divide as well as the positive impact Year Up has had on me, my peers, and the employers we work with. While I gained professional skills, confidence, and workplace experience through Year Up, I knew that realized after the program that IT wasn’t my true passion.

I graduated from the program with the increased clarity about my future – I knew I wanted to work for a company with a meaningful, social mission but did not know how to enter this space. Then, just as I was beginning to plan for life post-Year Up, someone I had met at a networking event introduced me to Resonant Energy, a Boston-based renewable energy startup that aims to bring 100% clean energy to 100% of people. After meeting with the founders of the organization, I was offered a job there. My job at Resonant Energy is to build partnerships with mission-aligned organizations and community groups, so that we can help expand solar power to all communities regardless of race or class. In just a few months, I’ve had a chance to meet with leaders from nonprofits, community development corporations, municipalities, and community groups and collaborate with them to make renewable energy accessible to all.

Through this work, I have been able to pursue my passion for giving back to my community, and wholeheartedly believe in bringing sustainability and economic opportunity to all. I have been able to develop skills such as outreach, community organizing, and business development, and have gained firsthand experience working at an innovative startup social enterprise. It’s VERY hard work, but it’s the best job I have ever had. I love my team and the work I do. It’s rewarding, challenging, inspiring, and beneficial all at the same time. For the first time in my life, I’ve felt that I can relate to the saying “If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.”

It’s important to me that we’re working to make Chelsea, my home community, into a more just and sustainable city. With Resonant’s Solar Access Program, we are creating opportunities for Chelsea residents to install solar panels on their roof for free, and participate in a local transition to renewable energy.

I’ve had an incredible opportunity to be with this company from the start, and see what it’s like to build a social enterprise. Now, I know that whatever I do next, I am committed to tackling the pressing issues the world faces. I think more young adults who don’t follow the traditional educational path should consider working for social enterprise startups -- it’s great a way to learn what it takes to build a company and pursue meaningful work. At the same time, more social enterprises should consider hiring young adults like me, who can provide perspective and connection to particular communities.

I have been fortunate to have several opportunities that have allowed me to grow as a person and a young professional. With the support of friends, family, Year Up, and Resonant Energy, I’ve become more aware of my own mental constraints that have previously prevented me from reaching my full potential. With this clarity and a better understanding of my passions and goals, I am ready to return to college to gain skills that will set me up for success.

It’s my firm belief that expanding access to education and skill development is essential to addressing the issues of inequity in our society. And I’ve made a personal commitment to myself to pursue new knowledge and self-improvement opportunities constantly. As Nelson Mandela puts it, “In life I never lose. I either win or I learn.” I know that I must continue to learn in order to remain relevant in today’s changing world.

In the future, I intend to bring together individuals who are motivated to make this world a better place and address the economic and environmental issues that affect local communities. I hope that more young people pursue education and work that aligns with their passions, and that more companies across the country will give them opportunities to grow into productive, innovative members of the workforce.

Kevin Sandoval is a Community Partnerships Associate at Resonant Energy and a Year Up graduate.

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.

Personal Story, Workforce Development,
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