Wednesday Jun 6th, 2018
“I walk every morning through the graveyard. It’s very peaceful. I’m doing my spiritual stuff,” Eric Kelly shared.
Five years ago, Eric did whatever he wanted to do – he was not bound by any rules. “I was doing stuff I wasn’t supposed to be doing but I thought it was cool. I saw older people in the neighborhood with nice cars and nice clothes and that was tempting,” Eric recalled.
“I was put out of all Baltimore City public schools, so I had to go to an alternative setting. People in my neighborhood told me about Youth Opportunity (YO) so I went there in 2013 to get my GED,” Eric said. It took him a couple years to finally complete his goal. “Even if I hadn’t shown up for a while, someone from YO would call me or send an email with a list of jobs. They know how to deal with young people.”
The Westside YO center is operated by the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development and provides academic supports, job readiness training and connections to career and employment opportunities. In addition, YO members benefit from an array of wraparound services including mental health counseling, legal services and referrals to community providers.
Eric took advantage of YO and put his resume together, attended workshops, improved his communication skills, went on field trips and even worked out in the gym. Sometimes he just stopped in and had long conversations with Stanley Smith, a YO employment advocate. “Mr. Smith told me I needed to think about the future instead of just trying to have fun right now,” Eric said.
Outcomes & Benefits
After earning his GED in 2015, Eric worked at various jobs through a temp agency until he ended up being hired at a swanky downtown café where he honed his customer service skills and enjoyed the camaraderie of his coworkers. Late last year Eric got into some trouble which caused him to lose his job. He stayed in the house for several months depressed and discouraged. He didn’t want to talk to anyone.
“After a few months, I just got tired of people having low expectations of me and judging me. I thought about all the things that Mr. Smith had talked about and advice he shared. So at this point, I had no money, no phone and nobody was going to take care of me. I put on a suit and went all over the place. I put in applications everywhere,” Eric said.
Eric is back in the restaurant business again working back-of-house and would like to move into a management position. Eventually, he’d like to open his own small restaurant. “I want to keep being a better person, keep growing, and I want to go skydiving for my birthday!” Eric said. “YO celebrates my growth and maturity. They recognize the transitions I have made.” When Eric walked into the YO center recently, sharply dressed, he was greeted with high-fives and congratulations and some warm hugs.