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At 14 years old, I wanted to be a hairdresser. Now I’m 35 and the Executive Director of Launchpad.

Launchpad is a new initiative from Building 21, that seeks to directly connect young people to living-wage paying jobs that offer upwardly mobile career opportunities, while providing them with the credentials, skills, mindsets, and experience to thrive in these roles.

Back when I was 14, I remember excitedly telling my mom that I wanted to be a hairdresser. “Hell no. You are too smart not to go to college,“ was her response. My mom was always pushing me to want more than she had. This moment was no different. As a hairdresser herself, my mom directed me to the only route to wealth that she knew. While college was certainly the right path for me, she pushed me towards it not because I was excited about college but because she did not have the exposure or language to help me understand other options. It’s not like there was an abundance of career pathway programming for high school students twenty years ago. We all thought college was the only way to thrive financially.

Standing here today, I am grateful that my mom forced me to go to college. It helped me find my way  to a rewarding career in academic and workforce development programming for youth in and around Philadelphia. (I still do hair on the side, though, as my mom also taught me the value of a good side hustle.) But, my heart hurts for every young person in the city of Philadelphia who may not be excited about college and who also doesn’t have access to a financially rewarding career pathway. About half of School District of Philadelphia graduates go right into the workforce. My work has always focused on positioning our Philly students as an untapped source of talent for corporations looking to diversify their labor force with highly skilled, highly motivated, and highly resilient young people.  

As the incoming Executive Director of Launchpad, I am excited to breathe life into Building 21’s innovative brainchild and bring together networks of students, high schools, post-secondary institutions, and employers to co-create new pathways for young people that lead to good jobs in growing industries.

By integrating career-connected learning, authentic work experiences, and the development of “future ready” skills, Launchpad will harness the power of these networks to prepare students to thrive as they transition into full-time work. If we support students to mastery across future ready skills, help them acquire job/industry specific skills, create lower-stakes opportunities for students to do real work with real customers at Launchpad Inc., and place them in good-fit living wage roles, then students will be launched into the next phase of their lives, ready to thrive in their first role and along an upward career trajectory in a growing industry. 

Certainly, no one can realize these grand ambitions alone. In the coming months, we will hire additional staff to further develop and refine our ideas and approach. We will also reach out to many individuals and organizations in our broader community and  seek their input, partnership, and support. Along these lines, I am thrilled to report that Launchpad was recently named an inaugural winner of The Catalyze Challenge. This grant will provide significant financial and programmatic support for our work.

As I step into my first Executive Director role, I reflect on that 14-year-old girl who was really upset with my mom when she told me I HAD to go to college. I reflect on the privilege of having someone in my life pushing me in the best way that she could given her experience and knowledge at the time. I reflect on how much gratitude I have for my mom whose decision 21 years ago was the start of my lifelong journey to be a catalyst for change in Philadelphia and to create meaningful opportunities that can transform the lives of young people across the region. 

Growing up, I was told that college was my only option. While my mom made the right choice for me, I also understand the importance and urgency of ensuring that all young people in Philadelphia have real and meaningful choices that lead to an upwardly mobile career trajectory in a growing industry in our city. Our youth deserve access to the city’s growing economy and Launchpad will ensure that our graduates are the employers’ first choice.

We know that talent is equally distributed—we are starting Launchpad to make sure that opportunity is more equitably distributed for young people across Philadelphia and beyond.

I am excited and committed to bring together networks of students, schools, employers, and other community-based organizations to co-create new pathways for young people that lead to good jobs in growing industries.

Learn more about Launchpad here.

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