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We would also like to invite you learn a little about how Youth Social Entrepreneurship helped one youth:
Dahjir Adams and Youth Express: A YSE Success Story
Dahjir Adams is both a recent graduate from high school, and a recent graduate from a Youth Social Entrepreneurship (YSE) OST youth development program. After just a short conversation, I could tell he was proud of his experiences, happy about where he is, and excited about his future.
Dahjir has been working with Youth Express Bike Shop, a YSE nonprofit organization for the last three years. Youth Express trains youth employees to staff a fully functioning bicycle repair shop. They hire youth ages 14-24 to perform mechanical tasks that empowers these young people with skills that are competitive in the open market. However, this store also sells used and donated bikes, along with brand new cycling gear. They need a friendly and talented staff to provide solid customer service, close a sale, manage money and profit and loss sheets, work as a team while also developing leadership skills, deal with criticism, problem solve, offering creative solutions, take risks, be productive, be skillful with social media and understand how it is best used for marketing a business.Over the last three years, Dahjir, excelled in these aspects of the organization– as well as developed a strong sense of autonomy and self confidence in himself and his abilities.
Dahjir has held a few different positions at Youth Express Bike Shop over the past three years. His first role was in the Urban Apprenticeship Program. “I think being an apprentice helped because it taught me how to be a good employee.” He explained that they spent a lot of time on aspects of customer service that are “hard to discern.” He talked about how so many things in a work environment take time to get used to, and they are not always as simple as they first seem. He was supported in learning about “what you can and can’t do” and how, “the boundaries between doing good customer service” helped him be friendly but still professional. I asked if this was a his experience “overall” in working here. He gave a laugh, “No, that was just the first six months.”
I asked Dahjir what he thought a good employee was before he started working with a YSE organization, and how that has changed. He told me that his ideas of a good worker mostly centered around a do-what-you’re-told mentality. “You know? Be quiet. Work with customers, and try to get as many things done by yourself as you can.” But once in the program, he quickly realized that he was not alone, and that the work was oriented toward learning to work well with others. Over the past three years the notion of what makes a good employee has changed for Dahjir. “So before I came into the program I figured it was just going to be a ‘regular’ job and stuff. Like I would just be doing what I was told, to the best of my abilities. But there is so much more you can do as an employee. Like it’s taking the extra step to do everything that you can do and [then] ask if you can do more. They were just teaching us the work-ability, customer service, all the good stuff.” This description of employee conduct came with an easy going smile and the confidence of experience.
People and opportunities were depicted as resources from Dahjir’s examples. “You have a lot of resources when you are working.” He explained that while at Youth Express, even if he wasn’t always at the top level of some part of his job, there were others that were. This exchange of talents and gifts fueled further learning, team building and leadership development, among the entire Youth Express team
Upon completion of the apprenticeship program, Dahjir began getting the benefits of mentorship. “I would be teaching some of the classes, so I had an insight into some of the business practices, management, and I learned about the inner working of how the shop goes, and how a nonprofit is run…and exactly what a nonprofit looks like.” He shared this with others and moved into this managerial leadership role. Dahjir explained how these skills, managerial insights on the business world carry on into interviews and other business practices he uses today.
Currently, Dahjir is working three jobs, which some might think is a lot…and objectively, it is. However, Dahjir paints a picture that we are seeing more and more with younger professionals. He is taking smaller, controlled steps in the service of himself than in what others might expect from him. He explains that he is picking up hours, at Youth Express, he picked up some work at the Minnesota State Fair, and that he is working as a barista on a local college campus. Dahjir has been renting a room and living on his own since he was fifteen.
Dahjir’s decisions may appear to some to be stemming from a place of privilege. His choices are tempered with years of experiences with both limited resources and using those resources to their fullest potential. This patchwork of jobs is nothing new to Dahjir. During his time as a Specialist at Youth Express and while graduating from high school, he was also been a periodic house painter and blacksmith apprentice. Dahjir told me that his plans for the near future are to work where he can and save money, and that he plans to find a place of his own and start college.
PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE
Dahjir’s short term goals include plans to start at St. Paul College and work toward a massage certificate. He is not quite sure what his next step after certification will look like, but his long term goal includes plans to work as a massage therapist while working towards a four-year university degree. He talked about how he “will do freelance massage around campus, while going for my anatomy and physiology bachelor’s.” Dahjir’s well-thought out plans include getting his generals done with his certification in hand from a less expensive community college, then applying theseskills from that course work will give him the flexibility to work around his school schedule.
I asked Dahjir what was missing from his experience with the YSE program. Although he has received a favorable outcome from Youth Express, he says that he would have liked to have learned more from external groups and more personal skill development…namely, personal financial literacy and driving.
He explains that they learned a lot about money. The youth staff “would count all the money and put it in the bank. So that’s giving us a lot of responsibility and showing us what happens with a small business. What exactly you have to do, and how exactly you have to do it. What money goes where and for what. That was a big part of it.” But the finances of a nonprofit are not the personal budgeting of a young person. “My mom didn’t teach me that stuff, so having a business [mentor] teaching that would be great…hearing their insights would be great too.”
On that same note, even though he was taught a great deal about bike maintenance and repair, and plans to incorporate cycling into his life-long transportation scheme, he points out that starting adulthood with a driver’s license works better than not having one. “It would open more doors,” he said–particularly around where to work and where he can live.
GIVING BACK TO YSE
Dahjir sees his future as bright yet full of a lot of work. He plans to work towards a masters in physical therapy or even a doctorate in chiropractic care. He is open to starting a business, or even a clinic, and talked about how he would focus on the whole patient and offer a variety of herbal and organic remedies. As a YSE program alumni, Dahjir plans to take full advantage of the bike repair space offered to program alumni. He envisions himself as a volunteer with planned outreach events like Open Streets and Grand Old Days in St. Paul, as well as proposing plans like hosting group rides and continuing to mentor.