Six months of earning an income for the first time, building trusting relationships, and learning about the possibilities can change the course of a young person’s life forever. At Juma’s 25th Anniversary Gala in September, supporters, staff, partners, and friends heard firsthand from Brendan Rogers, a Juma alum from 1997, what a difference a short span of time with the right intervention can make in a young person’s life. Today, Brandon is a Commissioned Officer in the US Coast Guard where he manages a training program for 26 states, and co-chairs his district’s Leadership Diversity Advisory Council where he works to make the service more inclusive.
Brendan told the story of his participation in Juma job training programs at Candlestick Park and the Ben and Jerry’s Scoop Shop on Chestnut Street in the heart of San Francisco. “It is so long ago now, but my memories of this time are vivid, since it was such a tough part of my life.”
When Brendan started at Juma, he was homeless and living in a shelter in the Tenderloin. “Homelessness felt like it had its own type of gravity, that even when I was out on the street, there was this feeling that people could smell the shelter on me. I felt that wherever I was, people knew that I was homeless. I felt deep shame for getting myself into this situation, and I felt severely less than ok.”
When Brendan got to Juma, he found other young people with different stories but with whom he was able to connect and build friendships. He also found adults who wanted to teach him new skills like product knowledge and how to talk to customers. One manager at the Chestnut Street store, Sam, taught him how to be good at what you do. Sam was proud when Brendan rattled off every ingredient in every ice cream at the store, and Brendan began to find pride in himself as well as confidence. “It seems like a small thing, but linking professional competence to social currency was incredibly important. The desire to be good at what I do professionally allowed me to take on larger and larger challenges.”
During his time with Juma, Brendan also met a job trainer named Markus who would offer him advice which would eventually come to reshape Brendan’s worldview.
“I remember telling him that the world was a set up. That in order for people to have wealth, that other people had to be poor, that the world was predatory…the idea that the world was a scam designed to exploit me was particularly poisonous for me at that point in life, because blaming others for my situation was a precursor element to giving up on my own ability to change my circumstances.” Markus pulled Brendan aside and told him that, while it is true that the world is unfair, it is also abundant and full of opportunities. “If the world had an opportunity for me, it will have one for you.”
Twenty years later, Brendan knows Markus was right. “The world is full of opportunities. You just have to be prepared for them, to seek them out, and most importantly, to believe that they are there for you.” His positive experience at Juma and positive reference from his supervisor allowed him to step up to the next challenge when he started his career with the Coast Guard. At the 25th Anniversary Gala, he was also able to reunite with Markus and tell him how much his mentorship meant.
Alumni like Brendan inspire the Juma team to continue working toward a future where all young people have the opportunity to succeed, advance and thrive in the career of their choice, and compete in a job market that is inclusive, equitable, and diverse. As we welcome new classes of Juma youth each year at sites across America, we look forward to a day when they can come back and tell us how much they have accomplished.