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What Happens When You Give Youth an Opportunity? What Happens When You Give Youth an Opportunity?

What Happens When You Give Youth an Opportunity?

by Cameron Schuster
December 25, 2013


Back in September, GOOD/Corps and The California Endowment launched the Pathfinder Fellowship, a joint-effort with one goal in mind: ensuring that young adults facing significant obstacles get the support they need to get back on track. The opportunity that this program presented to these young people was the game changer they were looking for. They graduated from the program in December and the immense transformation we and our partner organizations witnessed in them is an affirmation of the power of opportunity, the strength of community inclusion, and the flushing out of individual talents for future career development.

I have been proud to lead these young people down the path of personal advancement, intellectual growth, and career development. The road has not been without pitfalls or detours, but these young people proved strong enough to press on when hardship presented itself. We found that the true quality of a pathfinder is something we could not teach. Trusting when you think you can't, Speaking up when you're afraid, and divulging your painful past to relative strangers are just a few of the decisions that these pathfinders made in the pursuit of accomplishing their goals. For every lesson or piece of knowledge that we passed on to the fellows, they reciprocated in their own way creating a trustworthy relationship with clear communication. 

Indeed, the journey for these young Pathfinder Fellows has just begun. They each leave the program as transformed individuals with new skills to take into the workplace, and a new outlook on their future.  The program was focused on providing real world work experience to a fairly novice group of young people who had never held full time jobs, but the scope of what could and needed to be taught widened quickly as the first weeks passed.  Simply instilling the soft skills necessary to survive in the working world became a quick focus for these young gems of the Los Angeles community.

As we identified the strengths and abilities of each fellow we also touched upon important topics that would aid in their future success in life. These topics were code switching, networking, workplace diversity issues, and job retention. Much of the knowledge that was passed on was common sense to most, but simply had never been introduced to these young folk. Being the bright individuals that they are, they quickly began incorporating these lessons into their everyday routines.  Whether it was communicating properly to direct supervisors in the event of being late or properly informing the team of a change of plan through email they all began to manifest the qualities not of disenfranchised youth, but of young professionals.

Shawntrice and Elmer became part of the Fabric of TOMS' giving, and community teams. They learned many aspects of the socially conscious company and took on projects that are usually given to college level interns. Yensi brought her great energy, and enthusiasm for art to her posting at the Hammer Museum where she shined as a member of the guest services team.

Kyle and Claudia not only completed their internship at Team Rubicon, but they both were cleared for disaster deployment after receiving required FEMA certifications. Bianca entered NationBuilder as a 19-year-old single mother who had one goal: to provide for her child. She completed the fellowship as a full time employee of the NationBuilder product team where she finds the bugs in the coding.  


Airren and Desiray, who were stationed at GOOD, were responsible for posting every week—they essentially got a crash course in journalism and community management—and became well liked members of the office. They both improved their writing skills immensely, and were able to properly convey the Pathfinder journey to the world.

It was a true joy to watch each of them declare their worth, their dreams, and their desires for their future with not a moment of uncertainty. I hope that this momentous shifting of psychological outlook and inner strength will continue to grow in each of these young people. Kyle, Yensi, Claudia, Airren, Desi, Elmer, Shawntrice, and Bianca may not become famous or well known, but if you end up knowing them, you will be inspired. They will surely become assets to themselves, their community, and their family.

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