Dallas Opportunity Fair Brings Hope, Jobs to Young People

By Linda Dahlstrom / Starbucks Newsroom

Devante Willis hadn’t slept in more than 24 hours – not since his older brother had been shot the afternoon before.

They hadn’t found the shooter, he said, his voice growing quiet. But while the bullet had struck his brother in the back, the doctors didn’t think there’d be permanent damage.

Despite everything, Willis still took time to step out of his brother’s hospital room, and keep a commitment he’d made to do an interview. He wanted to talk about what he hoped for the future: A career. Stability. A path forward.

The 19-year-old is registered for the Dallas Opportunity Fair on Friday. More than 30 companies, including Starbucks, will be conducting more than 1,700 interviews; some will result in job offers on the spot. Participants between the ages of 16 and 24 who aren’t in school and aren’t working – known as Opportunity Youth – can get help with their resumes, learn interview tips, practice tying a tie, build an online job candidate profile and interview for jobs.

It’s there Willis hopes to get a job and make a new start.

“Life is rough right now,” he said. “It’s a lot of stress. A lot of pain. Really, my wish is a career job, a stable job where I can move up.”

This is the fifth Opportunity Fair since Starbucks committed in August 2015 to hiring 10,000 Opportunity Youth and partnered with more than 50 other companies to launch the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative. Since then, Starbucks has hired more than 40,000 Opportunity Youth, and announced earlier this year a new goal of hiring 100,000 by 2020. The coalition has a goal of hiring 1 million by 2020.

Investing in people

“Our overall mission and goal is create thousands of opportunities for young people seeking a first or second chance at their version of the American Dream by giving them comprehensive benefits, life-long training and a chance at a tuition free college degree,” said John Kelly, senior vice president of Global Social Impact and Public Policy at Starbucks. “We are also changing the perception of CEOs and hiring managers about the nearly 5 million young Americans who are out of school, not working, and facing barriers to employment and success. Our experience is that if Opportunity Youth are given a chance, they will make your enterprise more successful. We believe and have demonstrated that there is tremendous value in this undervalued, and often neglected population.”

At the Dallas fair, which will take place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, hundreds jobs will be offered on the spot – sometimes to people who’ve been told in the past that they are not hireable.

Larry James, CEO of CitySquare, a non-profit that provides food, health care, housing, training and more to 50,000 people each year in Dallas, sees first-hand the toll that poverty can take.

“Most of these folks come from a background where poverty is an everyday reality … they can be weighed down by toxic stress (from that),” said James, whose organization is partnering with Starbucks and others for the event. “Maybe they’ve not had an opportunity as grand as what working at Starbucks or Fed Ex might entail. It’s one event but it’s an opportunity to give people something to aspire to and be hopeful about.”

‘She was half my heart’

When Willis was a boy, he wanted to be a police officer, he said. “I felt like they were a hero. I wanted to be a hero.”

He grew up in a family where his father was absent and his mother struggled. It was a rough environment. “Everything and anything was going on,” he said. “And I was picking up on what was going on from a young age.”

His grandmother eventually took in Willis, his brother and mother to live with her. She helped provide love and stability. “She was half my heart,” he said.

She died a little more than a year ago. “It was Jan. 26, 2016 at 12:57,” Willis remembered. He wasn’t able to be with her at the end, he said. He was in prison, finishing a sentence for burglary and other crimes.

He has his high school diploma now and he’s ready for a new start. He wants to work – a dream he hopes will become a reality on Friday.

James of CitySquare hopes so too – for Willis and hundreds and others.

“For a significant number of people who attend the Friday event, things will happen that they’ll look back on years from now and tie to the day their lives took off,” he said. “No doubt lives will be changed Friday because of the prospect of having a job with a major company that provided a pathway to career and out of the difficulty of poverty.”

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