Poor kids in the corporate world: St. Paul program is changing lives


You might say corporate America is like the city of Oz to many economically disadvantaged kids and an impossible-to-travel yellow brick road away. 

“It’s a foreign world to them. They see it outside their windows, but it might as well be a postcard to them,” says Jeff Tollefson, who’s making it his business to help students break out of poverty and into the corporate world. All the while, this former venture capitalist says, he’s evangelizing to the business community “…this just isn’t the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing.”

Tollefson heads Genesys Works-Twin Cities, a non-profit program based in downtown St. Paul that teaches low-income high school students the job and professional skills they need to succeed in the corporate world. The program then places them in short-term, paid jobs with any of 28 corporate partners, including among them Medtronic, Ecolab, Xcel, 3M, Travelers, Accenture.

They’re young people like Bao Thao, a graduate of the program, whose face smiles from the Genesys-Twin Cities website and whose words are echoed by other students: