Tomorrow, August 2nd is our monthly clothing drop off day (from 8am to 6pm.) For more info visit: careergear.org/get-involved/do…
Kevin is an 18 year-old student in Manhattan who despite working part-time since 14 and participating in a multitude of extracurricular activities holds a B+ grade average and intends on putting himself through college. His parents moved to NYC from Fuzhou in 1995 to avoid Chinese familial size restrictions and, since neither of them speak English or received a formal education, the bilingual (English & Fujianese) Kevin has mostly had to guide himself. “I never had any mentorship. No one was there to help me out.” Working was a way to earn some spending money, but also part of a larger effort to distinguish himself from peers through an education complemented by professional experience. “All that trouble has taught me a lot. Because, hey, just because I don’t have a 100 average – it doesn’t mean I can’t be as successful as them. I’m not as school smart, but I think I’m life smart.”
Not only has Kevin maintained an 88% grade point average while working, he has managed to immerse himself in various student activities. Whether it’s been presiding over Baruch’s National Honor Society, captaining his Church’s basketball team, fundraising $2 million through an All Stars Project gala with Cory Booker (as a member of their Development School for Youth) or helping sign Ariana Grande at his internship with “Watah!” Kevin also finds time to give back to the less fortunate in New York City. Stepping outside his comfort zone, Kevin teaches children living in Harlem math and reading. When asked where he sees himself in ten years, he says: “I want to be successful. I want to have a business. And I want to be philanthropic.”
Kevin came to Career Gear for a suit to wear to a scholarship interview with the McKinney Roger Foundation. McKinney Rogers Foundation offers scholarships to disadvantaged young adults who otherwise would not be able to attend college without assistance. Kevin smiles when he recalls the suit was from Hugo Boss. “After going to Career Gear I’ve learned a valuable lesson that to be successful in life you have to step out of comfort zones.” Although he only came for a suit, Kevin decided to enroll in both Career Gear’s Professional Development Series Program and our MAST one-on-one mentoring program.
He credits experiences like visiting Armani’s Headquarters as the guest of a workshop facilitator in the Professional Development Series, Armani VP Bruce Weldyn with spurring his ambition. “Going to that company, seeing such an accomplished product and business just keeps me driven.”
As for the scholarship interview that brought him to Career Gear for a business suit, after a four-hour interview with five other finalists, a well-suited Kevin earned the McKinney Rogers Foundation Scholarship for Business & Entrepreneurship. $40,000 in much needed assistance for the costs of four-years of tuition. He’s quick to credit the suit for helping him to earn the scholarship. “I think the suit really set me apart and impressed them.” We at Career Gear know you never miss an opportunity to make a great first impression. We applaud Kevin and all his hard work and wish him the best of luck in his college experience!
On February 23rd, twenty participants in our Personal Enrichment sub-series enjoyed a special workshop: “The Power of Positive Communication”. Red Katz, an entrepreneur and inspirational speaker, hosted the session. Red is also the author of “Live Your YOUlogy”, which focuses on the importance and need of positivity when it comes to personal outlook and developing community.
Red began by asking the group if they were conscious of the words they use when speaking. Red emphasized the need to erase the word ‘can’t’ from one’s vocabulary, and to replace ‘try’ with ‘choose’. These tips, along with the reminder to be grateful in life, allowed Red and class participants to explore the opportunities and benefits a positive mentality can provide individuals and those around them.
At the start of the workshop, it was clear that focusing on positive thinking is not always easy, especially when it comes to uncompromising management. “I have a problem with authority. I’ve been in a lot of places because of that, and have paid the price dearly,” one participant admitted.
By the end of the workshop, none of the participants were harboring on negativity or past frustrations. Instead, participants shared why positivity was something they could look forward to. “I did 25 straight years in prison. I’m not glorifying it,” one participant explained. “The reason I’ve changed is because I’ve done a lot of people wrong. I appreciate the attention and valuable information that Career Gear gives me. It makes me feel strong – and that makes me feel good. I have an apartment and a hot shower,” he pointed out, adhering to Red’s advice to focus on something to be grateful for.
“Once you have that spiritual mindset, all you have to do is keep the fire kindled and good things will happen,” another workshop member explained. The message for positivity is clear, and the effect for one’s personal mission and their interactions with others are intertwined.
“People like a positive attitude. It festers within itself in a positive way,” Red explained. Interactions with co-workers, management, friends and yourself are all bettered through positive thinking – and the way that feeds back into the community is the ultimate added bonus.
“I’m a father – a new father. I had my first child at 48. The younger generation is important to me. I want to be part of something where I can help educate the youth,” another participant added. They say intentions drive actions and Career Gear is glad Red is able to help support such positive intentions.
Out of 600 seniors at his High School in Brooklyn, Keon was one of just 280 to graduate. Looking to be the first in his family to earn a college degree, he enrolled at Borough of Manhattan Community College – and, unprepared for the academic rigor, flunked out within a year. He tried again, this time at Devry University. And once again, he flunked out within a year. At this point, Keon was referred to Career Gear through the SUNY Bridge Program as a 21 year old hoping to look professional for the workforce. Keon left Career Gear with a new suit “I will never forget, it was a brand new Brooks Brothers suit!” (Donated by our long time corporate partner Brooks Brothers.)
Keon also decided to take advantage of the free classes on workforce preparedness, financial literacy and life skills that Career Gear offered. It was at Career Gear’s Professional Development Series program that he found a source of mentorship and a community of support. “They helped me. They gave me advice and helped push me forward.”
Keon soon landed his first job working at JFK as an aircraft cleaner, which he enjoyed for its globalized nature “I cleaned the inside of 747s from places like London, Sao Paolo, and Abu Dhabi. It was fun.”
But Keon still dreamed of higher education. He showed that the third time really is the charm and earned his Liberal Arts Associate Degree from Borough of Manhattan Community College. And then, with a 3.7 GPA to boot, he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Cultural & Historical Studies from the City College of New York.
Despite being raised in a fatherless household and experiencing academic failure, Keon earned his degrees, now holds a steady job, and still has ambition for the future. “I want to grow. Expand my horizons, and experience some upwards mobility… and help others. I like to see other people happy. I love it. It’s not just about me.”
While he might credit Career Gear with motivation and preparation “the guys here at Career Gear were kind of like the father I never had,” the foundational resources were his mother, grandmother, and community in Brownsville, Brooklyn. “The whole neighborhood and my church, they raised me.” Having continuously overcome and surpassed adversity and obstacles to his personal and professional growth, there’s little as inspirational as Keon’s continued commitment to personal progress and selfless community enrichment.
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