Seeing the Future in the Eyes of Our Youth

Written by CEO, Dr. Karen Johnson — My mentee, Xavier, and I had the privilege of participating in the summer workforce development program with DPR Construction. My youth has always been interested in working in construction. He loves to build things, and he worked with his uncles building bikes and remodeling cars. He loves working with his hands and being active. He worked part-time in the summer at a palette company and has also worked in landscaping. He was very excited for our first meeting at the Mayo Clinic, where we were given a behind-the-scenes tour of the renovation and expansion project. We filled out the application as soon as we had the opportunity.

Our program with DPR launched at the company’s headquarters, where we were introduced to our DPR ally, Andres. We listened to a presentation about how we would learn about resumes, about job interviews, and about professional presentations. We weren’t exactly sure what to expect, but I could tell Xavier was focused. He was curious. Our first project was to create a resume. In addition to the who’s and what’s, I encouraged him to share some how’s and why’s. I asked him to think about what he liked doing, what he was good at, what he wanted to learn more about. He had fun selecting the format and design and then filled in all the details. When the resume was done, I could tell he was proud to see “himself” on the paper.

Our meetings with Andres were always upbeat and fun. Once he and Xavier established some mutual reference points (Andres had gone to elementary school where Xavier’s grandma had been a teacher), they began to relax and get to know each other. Andres was not only the best coach, but a true advocate. He explained how to get started in construction as a craft employee, and then to eventually learn more trades through apprenticeship programs. With more learning and experience, you could eventually become a foreman and then a superintendent on a project. Trade school or college could be part of the journey, and Andres always stressed that “education can never be taken away from you.” In sharing his journey in the industry, he reassured Xavier that there was a path for him as well. With practice and every project, I could see him gaining more confidence each time we met.

When the day came for our final presentation at DPR, Xavier was ready. He put together a well-organized presentation, introducing himself, sharing what he had learned, and explaining why he was a good fit for the job at DPR. His presentation hit all the points—he made a great case for earning the internship. The other two young men in the program also gave amazing presentations. It was clear they were all great candidates, and they had each put in the hard work to complete the program. As we were practicing for the interviews, I just told Xavier to be himself. He already knew all the answers to the questions, and he should just let his excitement and his personality shine, and that’s exactly what he did.

When the evening of the awards banquet arrived, we were all a little bit anxious. I was so happy to meet Xavier’s family—his mom, his sister, and his best friend’s mom. They were all so proud of him and excited about what the evening would hold. When DPR announced that all three youth won the internship and scholarship, I started to cry. I was so proud and so happy for him. I could see in his eyes a brighter future ahead. He earned an internship and a big check for $5,000 to use for college/trade school or to purchase his first set of tools for a construction job. We took so many photos, and none of us could stop smiling. It was truly an incredible evening and a wonderful way to end our summer of learning.

Thank you to DPR for giving this amazing opportunity to our youth. Without question, you have recruited three excited, committed future employees, who will proudly join your workforce and help you build great things. I am proud that New Pathways for Youth is partnering with companies in our community to provide this program. It’s definitely a win-win-win for all of us!