Alejandro is well-spoken and talkative, but at times he simply doesn’t have the words to describe how much his life has changed.
Five years ago, he was in a jail cell, serving time for a drug offense. Today, he’s flourishing with a new job, positive influences in his life, and the capacity to care for his 3-year-old daughter and support his younger brother.
“It makes me want to cry just knowing how far I’ve come,” Alejandro said.
Now 24, Alejandro was 6 years old when his parents split up. He was 11 when he moved out of his mother’s house and went to live with a teenaged family member in Ohio. There he fell into using, selling and transporting illegal drugs.
“By the time I was 15, I was driving from Michigan to Ohio, and they were just paying me to pick stuff up,” Alejandro said. “I knew how much was at risk, but that was the life that I was living. By the time I was 16, I was already in a lot of gang violence, living in the streets, partying, smoking, selling drugs. I ended up getting caught. I did two years. A year in Jackson, and a year here in Kalamazoo County.”
He had a profound spiritual experience while serving time. When he was released, he began attending church and surrounded himself with positive influences. That’s where he first heard about Momentum, a program run by Kalamazoo nonprofit Urban Alliance.
Momentum is funded in part by United Way as part of our strategy to lift families and individuals into economic stability. It’s an intensive six-week course that blends life skills and employment readiness skills to prepare graduates for job placement. Students typically have employment barriers such as previous incarceration, employment gaps, homelessness, childcare struggles and more. The program has expanded recently to add academies in partnership with Western Michigan University and Kalamazoo Valley Community College.
Alejandro was part of the first Momentum class to go through the Warehouse Management and Inventory Control Academy. He and 12 other classmates graduated in January.
He was skeptical right up until the night before registration for Momentum.
“In the back of my mind I’m thinking, ‘You’re telling me I gotta come here for nine weeks without pay, every day, plus 100 hours of community service?’ I was like, “I need money, bro, I don’t need this. I need money. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I ended up going.”
He’s glad he did. What he found at Momentum included so much more than job training. He received character development, leadership, and hard and soft skills training. He also found family.
“We got so close. We shared things of ourselves that nobody else knew, and that was just the first couple days,” Alejandro said. “It’s more than just a program, it really is. I wish I knew the words to say. It’s just been amazing. I’m truly thankful.”
With the skills he learned in Momentum and the warehouse academy, Alejandro secured a job at Getman Corporation. In fewer than two months, he’s already earned a bump in pay and has enjoyed forming relationships with his new co-workers, who have helped him acclimate to his new role.
“Everything I learned in Momentum, I’ve put into action,” he said, adding that he couldn’t be happier with where he landed. “The benefits are amazing, the environment is so uplifting. I see myself growing with the company and as an individual.”
Outside of his new job, Alejandro fills his time by volunteering whenever possible and doing street ministry work with another Urban Alliance program, the Urban Outreach Initiative. He marvels at the changes in his life, and how different things could have been for him.
“A lot of the people I was doing life with, they’re dead,” he said. “A lot of them are in prison for a long time, and sometimes I drive past the guys I used to hang out with, and they’re still doing the same thing. It’s heartbreaking.”
Reflecting on his life to this point, he said he wouldn’t do anything differently.
“There’s so much goodness coming out of all the bad,” he said. “Everything that I learned, everything that I went through has brought me here. That’s my life, that’s my story, that’s what pushes me to do better. I’m truly thankful.”
When you give to United Way, you’re helping give people the opportunity for a better life through programs like Momentum. Help us change the story.