Growing up in the Glenville neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio had its challenges. The schools I attended never had the latest textbooks, never mind laptops or tablets. While suburban sports teams had cable and phone companies sponsoring their playing fields, our sports teams had outdated jerseys and well-used equipment. No matter how hard we tried we never seemed to compare academically to suburban schools.
Sports helped me keep my mind off the distractions. This journey of mine started with my middle school basketball coach, Damon Loretz. Mr. Loretz pushed me to rise above my surroundings. He was the one who persuaded me to sign up for Upward Bound, a program I grew to love. Upward Bound is a year-round college-prep program designed for academically qualified Cleveland Municipal School District high school students who were either first-generation college students or from low-income households.
Starting at age 12, I spent five long Upward Bound summers at Baldwin Wallace University taking up college courses, living in college dorms, and building lifelong friendships. I even got a biweekly stipend of $30 for attending class sessions. At the time I thought, “Wow, I never had this much cash in my pocket before.” I felt different, powerful, and hopeful. This money allowed me to play on three sports teams and participate as a member of student government instead of what would have been a required part-time job. However, by the summer of my junior year, the need for additional finances began to set in.
That same summer Terry Webb, the assistant director of the Upward Bound program, handpicked a group of qualified students and told us about a new partnership with an organization that would forever change my life, Youth Opportunity Unlimited (Y.O.U.), a nonprofit workforce development provider based in Cleveland.
Y.O.U’s mission is to support teens and young adults in Northeast Ohio as they prepare to enter the workforce. Through this partnership, I worked that summer as an Upward Bound student assistant and received my first lesson on the importance of digital literacy. I learned about and used technology to interact and communicate with parents and students about upcoming events, meetings, and class changes. I also applied my digital literacy skills to work collectively with other student workers on research projects for the program. I’m still not sure what Terry saw in me, but I was determined to learn everything I could involving this thing called Digital literacy.
The money I made from Y.O.U. that summer helped my mom pay for my senior dues and college application fees. Though money was an excellent incentive, little did I know the more powerful impact was learning the true value of being a good employee and getting a head start on technology that trained me for the future and continues to expand my opportunities.
Nine years after completing the Upward Bound Program, I am using those same fundamentals as the Case Manager for DigitalC’s new ReStart Boot Camp Program. ReStart has touched more than 30 community providers to advance digital skills acquisition. One of those partner organizations is Youth Opportunity Unlimited. Small world right? I manage the ReStart participants through the Bootcamp Program. I constantly meet with our provider groups on coordination of facilities, curriculum, certification processes, and orchestrating our five current certificate offerings. One of those same Y.O.U. programs is being delivered right here in our offices at DigitalC. I’m thrilled to work closely with the 16 young women who have enrolled in the 8-week program. It’s really rewarding to see youth from a similar background as mine get trained for future technology opportunities that they are yet aware of.
Having been able to take advantage of the fundamentals that Y.O.U. offered has been an ongoing bridge to my success. My interaction with Y.O.U. has come full-circle. I am positive that the lessons the current and future students are learning from this program will impact their lives forever and will ultimately lead to many other success stories like mine.