Hello, my name is Mike…

As my retirement from YouthBridge drew near, I found myself thinking as much about the beginning of my career as the end of it.
It was the summer of 1976, and my family had just relocated from Seattle back to Kansas City. We had the good fortune of moving into a home not far from the site of a new mall being built, Metro North Mall. As the area’s second largest mall and the only enclosed mall “north of the river” (it’s a KC thing!), it was a big deal. A brand new mall, full of new stores meant one thing – opportunity!

Montgomery Ward was going to be an anchor store at the mall and I was familiar with them because their Power Kraft tools were a favorite of my father. I decided to apply for a job during their career fair.  I don’t remember the details of the interview process and only vaguely remember the hiring manager, but I do remember getting the job! I was thrilled at getting my first real job and making an eye popping $2.30 per hour. As I understood it, I would get paid for just talking to people on the phone.

Looking back almost 45 years later, I’m wondering, who hires a 15-year-old as a telemarketer?  Much to my surprise, I learned within two weeks that soliciting credit card applications over the phone was not the cake walk I expected.  Although that job ended rather quickly, I worked various positions at Montgomery Ward for almost 10 years including sales, warehouse, automotive, maintenance and finished with a short stint in their management trainee program right after college.  Beyond learning how to tie a tie from a kind woman in our customer service center, this experience provided many of the soft skills needed throughout my career and helped finance my incredible lifestyle (a used car, good times with friends and college tuition – what most of us would consider typical for a high school or college student).

Ultimately, I choose a career path that did not include the retail industry and sadly, Montgomery Ward filed for bankruptcy. Which also leaves me wondering, was that simply a coincidence?  I guess we will never know.

As my career draws to a close, I am grateful for many, many things, but at this moment, I’m grateful for the hiring manager in 1976 who gave a wet-behind-the-ears 15-year-old an opportunity.  Our vision at YouthBridge Community Foundation is focused on providing children and youth with opportunities to become healthy, successful adults. Whether it’s our Youth Engaged in Philanthropy program, our Think Big for Kids grant, or our work as a philanthropy advisor, everything we do is focused on creating opportunities to learn, grow and experience, like the formative job I was given when I was 15. My gratitude includes all the people, experiences and organizations that have contributed to my journey.

I recognize that there were moments of privilege and opportunity during my career, simply driven by my gender or the color of my skin. Having always thought of myself and my parents as being self-made, pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps kind of people, this was not an easy realization for me. Knowing this doesn’t diminish my accomplishments or discount the hard work that got me where I am today, but it does require me to look for ways that I too can create opportunities for others. We can all do it by sharing our power and social capital with people outside our network, or by giving our time and treasure to support organizations doing this work.

Someone is waiting for their opportunity.  Will you be the one that grants it?  I hope so.