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Charting a new course in life with the help of social enterprise – Brendan Rogers, Juma

As a Commissioned Officer in the US Coast Guard, Brendan Rogers knows a thing or two about strong leadership. He manages a training program across 26 states, and co-chairs his district’s Leadership Diversity Advisory Council where he works to make military service more inclusive.  He leads others to stay calm and professional under pressure, expertly navigating high-stakes situations to successfully complete missions. Juma, a longtime REDF partner who breaks the cycle of poverty by paving the way to work, education, and financial capability for youth across America, provided the opportunities and empowerment to help shape who he is today.

At their 25th Anniversary Gala last year, Brendan took to the stage to share how Juma helped him chart a new course in life. In 1997, when he first joined Juma, Brendan was experiencing homelessness and living in a shelter in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood. As a young man trying to make it on his own, he was under constant worry and stress.

“Homelessness felt like it had its own type of gravity, that even when I was out on the street, there was this feeling that people could smell the shelter on me,” he shared. “I felt that wherever I was, people knew that I was homeless. I felt deep shame for getting myself into this situation.”

Eager to change his life’s trajectory, he joined Juma’s job training program where he worked at Candlestick Park and a Ben & Jerry’s Scoop Shop in the heart of San Francisco. Beyond building a work history, Brendan found camaraderie and connection with other young people willing to share their stories. He also found adults who wanted to invest in his personal and professional development, teaching him new skills like customer service.

“The staff that I engaged with during my time at Juma were exceptionally patient and made an effort to understand where I was coming from,” he says. “That is something that I needed, but that is not something that I would have received from a regular job where I was simply exchanging labor for money.”

Sam, his manager at the Ben & Jerry’s Scoop Shop, encouraged Brendan to take ownership in his role. He was soon able to recite every ingredient in every ice cream at the store and began to gain confidence and a sense of pride in his work.

“It seems like a small thing but linking professional competence to social currency was incredibly important. The desire to be good at what I did professionally allowed me to take on larger and larger challenges,” said Brendan.

Brendan notes that the unique combination of paid on-the-job experience, soft skills training, and supportive services that employment social enterprises like Juma provide gave him the stability and confidence he needed to get a foothold in the workforce.

“At that point of my life it was vital for me to earn a pay check while gaining those job skills. Finding employment is hard, it is even more difficult when you have little to no employment experience and are very young. Getting someone to not only take a chance on you, but to provide on-the-job training and support, even when you stumble, is rare. It was a privilege to be able to learn while having your basic needs met, even more to have supportive staff that were empathetic to what you might be going through,” explained Brendan.

Equipped with the skills he gained at Juma and a glowing reference from his supervisor, Brendan was able to start his career with the Coast Guard where he continues to guide and lead others today.

“The world is full of opportunities,” says Brendan. “You just have to be prepared for them, to seek them out, and most importantly, to believe that they are there for you.”

*This blog was adapted and updated with permission from Brendan and Juma. The original post can be found here.*

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