BMTN Gives Back: Genesys Works gives at-risk youth valuable opportunities


Few people know about how powerful Genesys Works can be as well as Juan Pentes.

The former St. Paul gang member was mired in crime as a 17-year-old, as the Star Tribune wrote in a profile last fall. But he got good grades, and his mother urged him to try the Genesys Works summer program. He nearly blew it off, the paper wrote, but ended up going to the five-days-a-week program.

There, the Star Tribune said he quickly gained an internship with Ecolab, and watched as the reality of gang life – the only reality he knew up until then – became his past, not his future.

He earned scholarships, graduated from Hamline University, and now works full-time at Ecolab as part of IT security, the Star Tribune said.

Genesys Works is, in essence, an IT job training and internship program. It's focused on high-risk high school seniors, those whose trajectory in life may be aimed in the same direction Pentes' was.

Genesys Works' goal is to give those kids an opportunity to work "in meaningful internships, at major corporations," in hopes of providing an escape – a chance at another reality they may not have know was a possibility for them.

"The model at Genesys Work is brilliant - meaningful internships and training coupled with an organization that has a solid earned revenue stream so that fundraising needs are minimized," wrote one expert when Philanthropedia named Genesys Works one of the top nonprofits of 2013. "They also have strong leadership."

Wrote another:

"Genesys Works prepares low-income youth for excellent jobs in the corporate sector, providing skills and experience that make them employable as well as strong applicants for college admission."

The Program

The original Genesys Works launched in Houston, and has since expanded to the Twin Cities, Chicago and the San Francisco Area. It was started in 2002 by former Compaq executive Rafael Alvarez, who re-examined his life following 9/11.

Students begin the program during the summer before their senior year, the nonprofit explains. They get eight weeks of training, designed to provide the students with specific technical training that will provide value to the corporations Genesys Works partners with.

The training program is free.

At the end of the eight weeks, the students earn a 20-hour-a-week, school-year job with one of those corporations.

Since Genesys Works began operating in the Twin Cities back in 2008, the local branch has seen 100 percent of its students accepted into college – all but 3 percent have enrolled directly after high school. In addition, 81 percent of participants have either graduated or are currently working toward graduation.

There are 29 schools working with Genesys Works right now. And the nonprofit has 44 corporate partners, including General Mills, Xcel Energy, the Hennepin County Attorney's Office and Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

2013 Success

Two hundred fifty-six students entered the program last June – whittled down from 715 applicants, the foundation's 2013 report says. By the end of the summer, 198 of the participants had earned a year-long paid corporate internship, the highest total ever.

And that put some money in their pockets.

Students earned a total of $1,579,437 in 2013 – more than $9,000 per student.

But where the program really makes an impact is in the lives of young people like Juan Pentes.

"They gave me the chance to work for Ecolab – something I couldn't have done on my own," Pentes said at a speech in 2010.

You can hear more about Genesys Works' impact straight from him:

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