What was your first experience/job in OST?
My first experience working in OST was back in 1999 when I took on a program director position at a Denver nonprofit agency. There, I created a 12-week curriculum that taught middle & high school-aged youth business, leadership, & academic skills. The caveat of program participation was that every youth that completed the program received a $500.00 stipend plus a computer/laptop.
What are you doing now?
Today, I still work in the OST space in youth development. However, my participant pool now includes working with immigrants and refugee students in Aurora and the surrounding metro area. While I still have two stipend-driven programs, I also work with the 21st Century grants at Aurora Central and Hinkley high schools. I have a national program for immigrants and refugees ages 15-24, that focuses on community outreach and engagement. And finally, I also work seasonally with Share Winter, which provides youth with ski and snowboard instruction.
What was your journey getting to where you are now?
My journey began in childhood around age six when my mother sent me and my other siblings to summer camps to avoid street violence in Chicago. This extended to attending the “Off the Street Club” (Boys & Girls Club) every day after school for the same reason. Here, my siblings and I participated in arts & crafts, music and singing classes, sports, acting, and other fun activities. As I grew older, I began to work at summer camps helping where I earned my first paychecks. I worked as a Counselor in Training (CIT) with the kitchen staff and lifeguard. At the age of 15, I became a junior counselor. However, this title was short-lived since soon afterward, realizing my potential, the camp director promoted me to full counselor status. This made me the youngest counselor in the camp’s history. After high school, I enlisted in the military where I worked with nuclear weapons. After being honorably discharged, I completed college and earned my degree in Criminal Justice & Criminology. After working in the criminal justice field for several years with adults and youth offenders, I became disillusioned and sought work to help people before they entered the system. A friend suggested that I go back to working with youth at the nonprofit I mentioned earlier. From there, my career in OST was born.
What is the value of working in this field? What excites you most?
Youth Success! Is there anything greater than seeing a young person whom others have given up on smashing preconceived notions about them? I was that youth. The other thing that excites me about working in this business is working with parents and the community.
When not working, what do you like to do in your spare time?
Spending time with my family, enjoying the outdoors, listening to music, writing, traveling (which I really haven’t done since the pandemic), and watching horror movies.