Deshawn Porter, an 18-year-old senior at Gordon Parks High School in St. Paul, has made some dramatic changes in his life over the past year. The changes started when he went to a job fair in Minneapolis and found out about a free employment and training program called IMPACT, based at the St. Paul YWCA. Having no work experience and having been recently kicked out of school, Porter signed up for Impact’s four-week work-readiness program.
The program taught him money management, workplace and interviewing skills, and helped him get a job at the YWCA as a front desk coordinator. Porter credits Chris Callan, and other staff members for taking time to talk about how he could improve his life.
They “showed me I could do something, not just tell me what I needed to do,” he said. “They went through things step by step with me and showed me what my ending results could be.”
IMPACT, based at the YWCA on the corner of Western and Selby in St. Paul, was started in September 2005. At the time, many teens wanted to be a part of something but were too old to join the YWCA’s Youth Achievers Program, which was for ages 8-14, according to Chris Callan, a program specialist for IMPACT since February 2006.
“There wasn’t a program here four years ago for older teens between the ages 15-20. So, Billy Collins, the CEO of the YWCA, hired Michael Steward to start IMPACT,” said Callan.
In addition to work-readiness, IMPACT offers a fitness program called Youth in Motion, a college-prep club for high school juniors and seniors, and assistance with standardized tests like the SAT and ACT. Funding comes from corporate foundations and state and federal government agencies.
“At IMPACT, we teach more than just employment and finances skills. We also teach kids how to focus, how to set goals and how to accomplish their goals. We spend a lot of time talking one-on-one with kids about what’s going on in their lives,” said Callan. For Porter, the program soon became about more than a job and a paycheck.
“What I learned from the work-readiness program that it’s not about the money but it is. I mean there are so many other things you have to do to be considered a good employee,” said Porter.
“When I started at the program I wasn’t in school, and after sitting down talking with Mr. Terry (IMPACT program specialist) I started to look at IMPACT like a resource center. He explained to me that it wasn’t just a place that could help you find a job. It was a place that could help get me back in school, and help me with a lot of other things” said Porter. Among those other things was a record of run-ins with the law.
Porter was raised by his mother in North Minneapolis, the youngest of four kids with two brothers and one sister. During his grade school and early teen years, Porter said he often saw drug and alcohol abuse in his home. The first time he tried marijuana he was 12, and he first sold pot at age 13.
“What led me to that lifestyle was growing up on the north side and never having any money. I had no adult in the house to give me any money, and I seen my brothers doing it making money so it was really easy to get caught up in that,” he said. “I got arrested three times for selling weed when I was 15 and 16.”
Since joining the IMPACT program, Porter has not had any troubles with the law, has maintained a steady job, and went back to school last summer. He says he will graduate from high school in the fall, and he has not figured out what he would like to do afterward. One thing he says he knows for sure is that the IMPACT program gave him all the tools he needed to change, but it was up to him to take advantage of and accept the help they gave.
“It was more of me — I was willing to change. The IMPACT program can only do so much for you, but at the end of the day you have to be willing to take the advice and apply the good things they tell you.”
Paris Porter is a former participant in the IMPACT program and an intern at the TC Daily Planet. (The writer is not related to Deshawn Porter.)
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