University of Houston-Downtown student Vanessa Nunez helped President Obama launch the Office of Social Innovation Tuesday (June 30) at the White House and explained how Houston non-profit Genesys Works helped her decide to attend college.
Nunez, 19, and six others were President Obama’s special guests as he called on foundations, philanthropists and the private sector to invest in community solutions to local problems. Nunez finished her freshman year at UHD in the spring and is considering a career in computer science. She is a graduate of Jefferson Davis High School.
Yesterday’s event highlighted innovative approaches and programs that make a difference. Nunez grew up in a single-parent home. She has worked to help support her family since she was 13.
“At 17, my life was on a course typical for many of my friends in high school. I went to school, babysat my little sister and worked a night job at the Aquarium (a local restaurant) to help my Mom pay the bills,” she said. “I was so tired that I slept through many of my classes. “
She said that at the time her minimum wage job made her feel “rich enough.”
Then her high school yearbook adviser encouraged her to apply to the Genesys Works program. The program provides technical, part-time jobs in medium and large companies with the goal of changing students’ lives. Nearly all (95 percent) of the students who are accepted into the program go on to college. After finishing training, Nunez got a job doing technical desk-side support at Marathon Oil, a Fortune 500 company in Houston.
“All of a sudden a whole new world opened up to me: being a professional! I had no idea you could work for $10 an hour, get holidays off and get paid for them,” Nunez wrote in talking points she used for her White House speech.
President Obama thanked Nunez and others for telling their stories as he announced that his administration has designated $650 million of Recovery Act Funds for the What Works Fund in the Department of Education. Money will help fund proven, non-profit initiatives such as Genesys Works.
“I want to thank Richard and Vanessa (Nunez) for sharing their stories with us today. Thank you very much. You both clearly have very bright futures ahead of you,” President Obama said.
“We’ll be investing in the most successful, highest-impact initiatives in our school districts and communities,” Obama said. “It’s not just going to be the usual formulas here. From pioneering teacher training programs and efforts to bring new technologies into our schools, to early learning programs and programs to help at-risk kids – these are the kind of initiatives that (U.S. Department of Education Secretary) Arne (Duncan) and his staff at the department are looking to support,” he said.
Rafael Alvarez founded Genesys Works in Houston. The growing, national organization expanded into Minneapolis in 2008. Some 200 students in the program are training to work in IT, engineering, drafting and accounting.
Video of the event is available at C-SPAN’s Web site. Attached below is a link to the entire 49-minute session. UHD student Vanessa Nunez speaks at the 21:50 mark in the video clip. President Obama begins his remarks at the 32:30 mark.