Sometimes adults assume teenagers are more focused on our phones than our futures. But what they don't always see is how hard many of us are working after the school bell rings.
My parents both work full-time and wanted me to have a safe place to go after school when they weren't home. That's how I started attending the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Lee County in Auburn, Alabama, where I've been going every day after school since I was 6 years old. Little did they know how much walking through the Club doors would change my life.
Building Confidence to Succeed
"You're going to do great things. Just try your hardest and go for it." That's what my Club mentor Ms. Katie always tells me.
I carry her words with me everywhere. Like the time I auditioned for the school play and didn't get a part. I was devastated. But the Club helped me get into a local theater camp where I learned new skills, like improv, character development, and staying in character. My acting improved, and I got a part in the next play.
I thought about her advice when I was nervous giving speeches and being interviewed as part of our Club's leadership development program. Or when we'd volunteer at a local nursing home, turning strangers into friends.
Most importantly, her guidance and the opportunities I've had because of the Club have helped me overcome my shyness and learn to speak and act with confidence — a skill that has been critical in getting my first job.
First Things First
I've carried everything I've learned at the Club with me into my first job, which the Club helped me land through its partnership with Old Navy’s This Way ONward program. First, they taught me how to prepare for the interview process. Working with a partner, we practiced answering common interview questions. If we didn't know the answer, our team director would provide guidance and suggestions to improve our responses. Those sessions were invaluable in showing my potential to hiring managers at Old Navy.
At the store, my primary responsibilities are working the cash register, helping customers select and purchase items, and ensuring the store is nice and neat for shoppers. I also quickly learned the importance of patience and communication.
On the first day of my first job, I encountered a very unhappy customer. I handled the situation by tapping into the most important lessons I learned at the Club: to treat people how you want to be treated and remember kindness can go a long way.
I remained as calm and respectful as possible and reassured her we could solve her problem. Like I learned through theater, you have to know how loud or softly to speak, what tone to use and what role you need to play. Now in my job, I've learned you can't speak to everyone the same way. Every customer is different, and you have to understand their unique needs and how to communicate (and not communicate) with them. You also have to work as a team, ask managers or coworkers for help when you need it and have their back when they need you.
I currently work 30 hours per week at Old Navy during the school year and add on a few additional hours during the summer to save money for college and my future. That means I often work from 5 to 9 p.m. on school days and still have to get to sleep at a decent hour. My Club coaches have helped me learn how to manage my time without getting overwhelmed or exhausted.
After just five months of working at Old Navy, I was named employee of the month. I'm proud of that. Having supportive people around me, including Club mentors and Old Navy managers, inspires and motivates me to do better, be better and push harder to reach my goals.
Onward and Upward: Great Leaders Start Here
Working at Old Navy and volunteering in the community with my Club have made me realize how much I like helping people. These experiences have helped me discover that I enjoy helping others with their problems or through difficult situations and may want to become a therapist.
On the flip side, I also love math. I've learned a lot about handling financial transactions at Old Navy. Through the Club, I attended a program that taught me how to manage money that I enjoyed. I'm using the skills I learned to save and spend what I earn at my job. Perhaps I will become an accountant.
I plan to go to college when I graduate from high school, and maybe I'll major in psychology and accounting. As Ms. Katie said, I need to try hard and go for it. Then, the sky is the limit.
Preparing More Young People for Great Futures
Research shows that when we introduce young children to the world of work, they're more likely to dream big and connect what they're learning to future career opportunities. Starting as early as age 6, Boys & Girls Clubs help kids like Eliana explore their passions and interests, develop employability skills, and apply knowledge in real-world settings like Old Navy's This Way ONward program so they can become anything they can dream.
This Way ONward empowers young people aged 16 to 24, who often lack access to jobs, with valuable work experiences to develop the necessary skills and confidence to succeed. Learn more about all the ways Clubs are preparing young people for college, careers and life.