Program helping underprivileged high school students in corporate world expands to Chicago, Minnesota

September 28, 2011 2:51:06 AM PDT
It's a program that's changing the lives of high school students. It not only gives them skills. It also gives them something to look forward to.

The group exercise might look like fun and games, but it is serious business.

"It's an opportunity of a lifetime, you know," Genesys Works intern Jose Morales said.

The high school seniors are part of a one-of-a-kind program called Genesys Works. It takes underprivileged high schoolers and gives them a chance to work in the corporate world as paid interns for a year.

"Before this, I would have never thought that I would even step in and think about going to college," Morales said.

The program was founded nearly 10 years ago by Rafael Alvarez.

"Do you feel like you're changing lives?" we asked him.

"Absolutely. We are changing lives," Alvarez responded.

The program begins with an eight-week training course in accounting, basic engineering and computer skills. More than 50 Houston companies then "hire" the students as temporary employees.

"I work on computers. I take it apart, put it together, fix mouses, put software in there and all kinds of cool stuff," intern Leslie Calderon said.

"They understand that we are high school kids, but they still give us work and expect us to meet the standards," intern Marceya Pineda said.

Despite the tough economy, the program has expanded.

"In the middle of what's been a very tough year for a lot of businesses and a lot of individuals, we've been just extremely fortunate to be able to grow," Alvarez said.

When we first profiled the program in July 2009, there were 100 students in the Houston program. It's nearly three times that size this fall.

Genesys Works now has an office in the Twin Cities in Minnesota and last year, it opened an office in Chicago. Those complement the efforts here in Houston, which are now led by Dan Wampler.

"I think Genesys Works is filling a need," Wampler said. "We train the students on a skill, but more importantly we give them the professional skills necessary to succeed."

Success, it's a word many of these students might not have thought was part of their future just a few short months ago.

"It's amazing that people want to help kids like us because where I come from you either work construction or you go to the refineries after high school, if you graduate high school," Morales said.

Now graduation is just the beginning.

This year, Genesys Works will help more than 500 high school seniors,360 of whom are here in Houston. The organization will celebrate its 10th anniversary this spring.

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