Genesys Works transforms disadvantaged students through technology

Posted by on November 21, 2011 in Education, Entrepreneurship, North America, Tech

Jacob Johnson is currently a senior at Como Park Senior High School in Minnesota. He’s smart, a sharp dresser and comes from a tough life, a life where his biological father left at birth and he must cope everyday with degenerative disk disease, a genetic chronic back pain. Through his involvement in the Genesys Works program, he works each afternoon as an intern in the IT department at Medtronic, the largest medical technology company in the world.

Jacob’s job is made possible by three factors: his personal drive, an impact investor and a social venture named Genesys Works, whose mission is to enable underprivileged students to break through environments of low expectations to discover that they can succeed as professionals in the corporate world.

Over the course of 14 months and nearly 1,400 hours, each student learns the technical skills necessary for their job, works at one of the leading corporations in the Twin Cities, participates in college selection, and gives back to their community via monthly service projects. 100 percent of Genesys Works’ graduates attend college. 93 percent have graduated or are still enrolled.

Yet, this would not have been possible in the Twin Cities without Rafael Alvarez, the founder of Genesys Works in Houston, and Social Venture Partners Minnesota (SVP MN), an impact investor and social venture incubator that engages its investors through hands-on work in its portfolio organizations. Through SVP MN funding, Genesys Works has grown from 12 students in 2008 to 135 students in 2011 with plans to have 200 students complete the program in 2012.

Last Saturday, SVP MN held their fourth quarter meeting and a room full of investors and local changemakers got to hear Jacob’s story. The entirety of which is posted here:

My name is Jacob Johnson and like most people I have a story to tell.

Growing up I never had anything. I grew up in a dope house and was raised on drug money and welfare. The odds were against me from day one, and still are stacked up against my favor, but that’s not going to stop me. Everybody knew my family, but knew of them for the wrong reasons. I have seen things people shouldn’t see at a young age. I know more crack heads, drug addicts, and drug dealers, then I know my own family. When you live this lifestyle you think its right and you get used to it. Until i started wondering “Why don’t i have anything? Why does my mom act funny? Why is there no food in the fridge?” That’s when I knew something was wrong, and then my eyes were opened. My parents were drug addicts, always moving around. I went to more schools then i can remember, and never felt like I fit in anywhere.

Growing up I was surrounded by death. I have been to a lot of funerals, but no funeral devastated me like the death of my uncle Melvin Johnson. A great man with greater problems, but he was my hero… Now I have only memories to remember him. I loved my uncle but he didn’t know it. My uncle Melvin took his life on his own sons birthday, thinking he was doing the world a favor. Thinking that the world would be better off with one less drunken Indian. So he went and told his son good bye, went to the garage and hung himself.

My step dad Billy Prahl killed himself and i never found out why. He was going to adopt me and my little brother and wanted to be our dad. Then he went missing for a few days and my mom got worried, so she started looking for him. She found him in the garage tangled in the electrical wiring. I know death, I know pain, I know what it feels like to be alone, scared, and misunderstood. I had nobody when all of this was going on. I didn’t have real friends. I was diagnosed with clinical depression when i was 13. I never go a day without any pain.

I have been to foster care six times, and I have been to more homes and battered women shelters then I can count. I was taken away from my mother and tricked by the workers when I was a kid. I can remember my mom was crying because she knew what was going to happen. We were brought to a strangers house. It wasn’t a good feeling. We moved from house to house for about 2 years. Then we stayed at one house for a year. We got to see my mom every once in awhile, she was fighting to get us back My mom went through drug treatment and did what she had to do. But she didn’t learn anything from it. As soon as we came back nothing was different. My mom has good intentions, but shes not the same anymore. Drugs have destroyed her, but I know she loves me. This was my childhood, this is what I grew up around. This is not what I’m going to be. This is not going to be my life, and it will never be my future.

One year ago, in my junior year I made the biggest turn around of my life. In my sophomore year I failed 21 classes out of 24. The classes I did pass I barely passed. I made a mistake. I took my education for granted and I know that now. The only way to get anywhere is through education. So when junior year came around I made a choice for myself. I choose to do the extra schooling so I could make up my credits. Instead of six classes in high school, I had 3 additional classes. I had to do an additional 4 hours of schooling. It was not easy, but I did it. I made up all my core classes and I’m back on track to graduate with my class of 2012. I cant take all the credit, because I did have people in my corner to help me, encourage me, and even discipline me if it was needed. I owe a lot of credit to my counselor Jamie Knutson, the DA’s TIP program, and my legal guardian Frank Felix. I couldn’t have done it without them.

So where does Genesys works come in? Well to be honest when I first heard of Genesys Works I was not interested. I honestly didn’t care. I was there because my counselor wanted me to see what it was. Then I was sitting there thinking about it, and I said to myself “it couldn’t hurt to try.” So I went to my counselor and we talked. She told me I had to pass every class so I didn’t have to go to summer school. If I failed one class I couldn’t do Genesys Works. Well I passed everything and caught up on my credits and the Genesys Works eight week IT and professional training boot camp was my reward for my hard work. I’m glad I did it because it has been the second best choice I have ever made.

Genesys Works knows my dreams and is helping me get to it. Genesys Works is a family; we all know each other and we all support one another (much like my friend and fellow GW Young Professional, Stanley Wu, is here supporting me today); we are all friends and I’m glad that I can say that. We all come from different backgrounds, and we all have different stories. I have respect for all my fellow young professionals, and gratitude for the GW staff. They truly care about me, and they care for all of us GW students.

I stand before you today as living proof of the impact that organizations like Genesys Works can have on young people like me. On behalf of all of the students that have benefited from Genesys Works to date and all that will gain from it in the future, I want to thank Social Venture Partners for making this program possible. Because of your generosity, this is where my story of success will begin.

Tristan Pollock

Co-founder of SocialEarth and Storefront. AngelPad alum.

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