01/24/2013 02:25 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Growing Flowers From Concrete: Foster Care to Career

By Alfonso Taylor, SRA Alumnus, Students Rising Above

My name is Alfonso Taylor, and when I was nine-months-old, my father took my mother's life. He shot her several times right before my older siblings and me.

As a foster child in the aftermath of that tragedy, I was expected to fail. I had a 2 percent chance of graduating college. According to statistics, I should be on the streets, dealing drugs or involved with a gang. Instead, I am a young professional who has turned his life around in the face of poverty and violence. I did this by going to college and getting the job training I needed to succeed. Today, I work at RGB Spectrum as an Inside Sales Representative. I wouldn't have gotten here without Students Rising Above (SRA).


The Value of College
Prior to becoming a part of SRA, no one in my family had ever stressed the importance of a college education. School was presented to me as a hobby in life, rather then an essential tool to my future. It was hard to view higher education as critical, when my family members before me never finished high school.

My main challenge with getting into college was that I never believed that I had the knowledge and skills required to succeed in that environment. Because of my background, I had always thought of myself as inferior to others. The idea that I was lesser than other people has always plagued me and limited what I believed I could accomplish. The unparalleled mentorship that I got from SRA instilled in me the confidence to take that first step in applying to college.

SRA's college counseling and support network was critical when I left home for Ohio Wesleyan University. This was my first experience leaving home for a long period of time. I had moments when I was on the brink of giving up because the intensity of college was unlike anything I had ever experienced. Unlike many of my classmates, I did not have a mother or a father to reach out to in times of need. SRA was there to remind me why I was working so hard. The staff there reminded me of where I came from and that if I wanted to change my future, I had to stay strong and remain focused on rising out of poverty.

Setting Goals
When I started college, my career goals were almost nonexistent. I never took the time to stop and think about a profession I would pursue after school or the classes that would best prepare me for that field. I told my SRA mentors about the growing disconnect between my passions and the career opportunities available post-graduation. They encouraged me to join various campus organizations that allowed me to experience working with diverse people on different topics. I took full advantage of SRA's career development team and their ability to enhance my professional skills via career readiness workshops, networking opportunities, and much more.

As a direct result of working with SRA's career development staff, I was able to land a paid summer internship each year that I attended college. The exposure to both corporate and non-profit business environments enabled me to gain invaluable work experience, and prepared me for the fulfilling career I have today.

As soon as I graduated college, I quickly realized that the skills, confidence, and preparation I gained from SRA were only half of the battle. My biggest challenge in the job market was that I had no idea where to begin looking. It was as if someone had given me all the tools necessary to complete a journey, but the destination was still unknown.

The U.S. economy had recently emerged from the recession, but the current unemployment rate was still an astounding 9.0 percent. All of this, coupled with the fact that there were more college graduates seeking full-time employment than ever before, turned my dreams of getting my first full-time career into a hopeless reality.

Landing My First Job
I never cherished SRA more than during this incredibly tough and significant moment in my life. My mentors at SRA reminded me of all that I overcame to be a first-generation college graduate, and that securing my first job was something I could handle.

In addition to its exceptional networking opportunities and fully committed team, SRA delivers something you won't experience with any other kind of nonprofit. SRA is an organization that gives water to flowers that are trying to grow from concrete. The results are a treasure. SRA enables people like me, who few believed in, to have the resilience to blossom so beautifully and impact the world so immensely. If it were not for SRA's ability to compassionately see beyond the surface of a person, and to dig deep to awaken and nurture human potential, young adults like me would not have the occupations that we have today.

Who are these heroes at SRA who helped me turn my life around? Come back next week, when SRA's internship coordinator, Lauren Brener, shares her story of working for SRA.

Help SRA Help Others
SRA has helped hundreds of extraordinary young adults, like Alfonso Taylor, break the cycle of poverty through mentoring, college education, and job training. The more money and awareness we raise, the more students we can help. Please visit our page on CrowdRise, and support our efforts to change the lives of hard-working young men and women in our country. Thank you.

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