Raised in Boston, in a large family where money was tight and resources few, Karen Losi credits the Gap job she landed at age 16 as a life-changer.
So it was a no-brainer when she was offered the opportunity to volunteer and help launch Gap Inc.’s signature youth mentoring program, This Way Ahead, in Boston.
“I jumped at the chance,” said Karen, a 15-year employee and Gap general manager in Burlington, MA. “I was lucky to find Gap early on. It shaped me.”
Karen is one of eight Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic employee volunteers who are leading Gap Foundation’s job readiness program for 35 Boston-area underserved teens.
In March, the program began in Boston, in a partnership between Cambridge Housing Authority, Gap Foundation and Gap and Old Navy stores. (The program already exists in New York City and San Francisco).
In weekly classes, the Boston youth, 16 to 18 years old, are coached in what it takes to get and keep a job. Sessions include topics like interviewing skills, goal setting and conflict resolution.
And from the 35 current enrollees, a dozen or so will be hand-picked for highly coveted, paid internships within the stores.
“These kids need these jobs. They want these jobs,” Karen said. “Some are making money for their families, and some are paying their way through school.”
One graduate of the San Francisco program affirmed its value.
“When I was first involved with them, I was very shy – I wouldn’t even take my jacket off,” said Old Navy employee Nelson Campos, 19. “I didn’t know anything about the workplace – what rules to follow. This Way Ahead really opened my eyes.”
More than 1,000 youth have participated in This Way Ahead since its inception. Of those who interned, 75 percent have been offered permanent part-time jobs.
Gap Inc. plans to expand This Way Ahead to two additional cities, for a total of five, by 2015.