Where can teens find confidence, skills and a sense of opportunity? At the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Memphis, their JuicePlus+ Technical Training Center provides a state-of-the-art, 24,000-square-foot facility complete with a greenhouse and tower gardens. During her junior year of high school, Keishuna W. signed up for the center’s workforce readiness program, which helps train and place hardworking teens in part-time jobs and its graduates in productive careers.
Keishuna received culinary training via the Technical Training Center’s Gardens to Groceries program, where trainees grow vegetables and prepare buffets and formal meals for the community in a commercial-grade kitchen. She also learned basic car repair from the automotive track and how to drive a forklift from the logistics track. She received training in money management, customer service and personal goal-setting, as well.
A straight-A student, Keishuna always pushed herself to excel in school but didn’t always feel hopeful about the future. She faced obstacles like homelessness, domestic violence and depression and, at 16 years old, attempted suicide. But Keishuna says encouragement she received from Club staff like Crystal Caulfield, director of Career Prep, helped her to be open to new experiences and not limit her dreams — like one day owning her own automotive repair shop.
More than 90 percent of Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Memphis members come from families who live at or below 200 percent
of the federal poverty level. Many struggle with basic housing needs, high-crime neighborhoods and limited educational opportunities. Despite the odds, the Club struck upon a formula for success to help youth break the cycle of poverty and violence through their workforce readiness programming. Each year, the Technical Training Center instructs approximately 350 participants and has a remarkable 100 percent
job or college placement rate.
“This is a tough environment to grow up in,” says Keith Blanchard, president and CEO of Greater Memphis Boys & Girls Clubs and a former police officer. “I’ve been to seven funerals in the past four years. Nothing stops a bullet better than a job. You need to give [young people] a career pathway where they can see a better future.”
After graduating high school in May, Keishuna is headed to LeMoyne-Owen College with an impressive 30 college credits already under her belt. She hopes to transfer to Tennessee College of Applied Technology - Memphis in two years. In June, she began a custom-designed aircraft mechanics internship with the assistance of former Club member and Boys & Girls Club of Greater Memphis board member, Shannon Brown, a senior vice president and chief human resources and diversity officer at FedEx.
For Keishuna, the future is bright, her dreams to one day own a business within reach. As today’s employers report their greatest obstacle to growth is the inability to find qualified candidates, workforce readiness programs at Boys & Girls Clubs are doing whatever it takes to position young people to transcend the workforce skills gap — ensuring all youth are well-equipped for work and life.
Learn more about how Boys & Girls Clubs are developing solutions to close the workforce skills gap for youth in our white paper, Building Economic Opportunity: Youth Workforce Readiness, and get action steps on how to help in your local community.