The Kalamazoo Promise turns 12-years-old in 2018

The Kalamazoo Promise turns 12-years-old in 2018.

The Kalamazoo Promise turns 12-years-old in 2018, which means the kindergarten-age students at the time of launch are graduating from high school this spring.

Lee Gardner and Quay Wilson love their jobs.

Gardner said, "it's the best feeling and when I say that, I mean it with every fiber of my being."

As counselors and treatment coordinators at Lakeside for Children, they work with abused and neglected kids to not only better their behaviors, but better their lives.

"Some kids come in here with nothing." Wilson said, "there are times I have to go and shop for kids. Clothes, deodorant, toothpaste, anything. Just like they're my kids."

"You mold these kids into something better." Gardner said, "it makes you feel empowered and it makes you feel like 'wow' look what I did, look what my work was able to do."

In many ways, they've done it together. Both products of Kalamazoo's North side and 'New Horizon' Village Apartment. The two were Kalamazoo Central teammates, winning back-to-back state championship titles. both played basketball at the collegiate level and both were Kalamazoo Promise recipients.

Von Washington Jr. said, "Every day we get questioned. Are students graduating? Are they getting credentials, certificates and are they coming back and working in the community?"

Now in its twelfth year, the Promise is focused on helping graduates, like Gardner and Wilson, find good jobs.

The Promise partnered with area employers, along with Urban Alliance, to offer resume-building opportunities, like internships and skills training.

The W.E. Upjohn Institute has also been given a $360,000 grant to research graduates' employment data, including their salaries. The results are expected in 2019.

Washington said, "We'll take a look at what sectors people are working in, we want to find out where people are going, where they're getting their degrees, what type of money they're making. And then we'll continue to push back on the community to try to meet where the gaps are."

Gardner and Wilson call The Promise a blessing.

Gardner said, "It just gave me more motivation to be successful."

They credit the program for making a positive difference in their lives so that they can do the same for others at Lakeside for Children and beyond.

Gardner said, "Right now, my main focus and my main goal is to be a probation officer. I want to be that within the next three years."

"They want to see us succeed." Wilson said, “Kalamazoo wants people to have their degree in the community."

For more information visit the Kalamazoo Promise website.

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