Written by Tori Kammer, Development & Communication Manager
Growing up in Mississippi, Zakeyis Hernandez would watch the movie “Home Alone” and dream of moving to New York to experience all the city has to offer. He was inspired by the winter movie scenes in Central Park, the mile high skyscrapers, and most importantly, the endless career possibilities. In 2015, he made the courageous decision to move to New York for better opportunities but unfortunately, adjusting to his new life was not as simple as it seemed on TV.
“At the time, I didn’t realize just how hard it would be. With so little support behind me, I was struggling to afford basic necessities and even find a place to live,” Zakeyis says. “I saw a Facebook advertisement for Urban Upbound, saying they can break the cycle of poverty, so I decided to give it a try.”
Zakeyis joined us for our orientation and quickly established his first goal which was to find employment in the customer service field. He received wrap-around support, and assistance with everything from resume building to personal finance and more. Knowing he wanted to work in the customer service field, our team spent extra time working with him to develop his soft skills.
A key component to Zakeyis’s success was meeting with, and finding a mentor in, Corwin Mason, Urban Upbound’s Clinical and Wellness Coordinator. While Zakeyis was working with our employment team to establish a career path, Mr. Mason was regularly providing wellness check-ins to address other barriers to tackling poverty.
“You don’t forget about the people who help you, and I will never forget the impact Mr. Mason has had on me,” says Zakeyis. “He was there for me when I desperately needed someone to be. You don’t forget those kinds of things.”
Not long after he began working with our team, Zakeyis was able to land an interview with Equinox. Using what he learned in our job readiness program, he aced the interview and got the job. Zakeyis now works as a front desk associate at Equinox, which serves as the first step in his long-term customer service based career plan.
“This is the kind of support people like me need to be successful. I found people to guide me and make me realize I can make it out here on my own — I just needed a hand up to get me on my feet,” Zakeyis shares.
This is just the beginning of Zakeyis’s journey with Urban Upbound. He is regularly meeting with our team to ensure he meets his retention milestones, advances in his career over time, and finds support through our mental health and wellness program as needed.
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