When I was a kid, if you asked me what I was going to be when I grew up, I would have responded, “a boxer” without hesitation. It’s in my blood. My grandfather was a boxer, and he taught my father, who in turn trained me from the age of 4. By the time I was 18, I was fighting in matches across the country and internationally. I was ranked No. 3 in the U.S. light heavyweight division with aspirations to make the 2008 Olympic boxing team.
Boxing was my passion. But in 2007, I was injured and had to make a difficult decision: keep fighting and worsen my injury or figure out a Plan B. My parents and then-girlfriend, now my wife, encouraged me to pursue a new dream. As a kid, I had liked video games and computers, so, in July 2007, I enrolled in Gibbs College located in Livingston, NJ, to work toward an associate’s degree in Computer Networking Administration. Toward the end of completing my degree, I met Dr. Art Langer. In a meeting that changed my life, he introduced me to his nonprofit, Workforce Opportunity Services (WOS).
WOS jump-started my post-boxing career. In February 2008, I was chosen for a cohort focused on training underserved individuals in quality assurance, and I began the full-time 18-month technical training program taught at Essex County College in NJ. During the course of these 18 months, we also received soft skills training, something I’ve come to value more and more as my career progresses.
As soon as I started the training program, I was put on an accelerated path and placed by WOS into a full-time management role at a health insurance provider in NJ. Throughout this transition, my WOS Client Services Manager was incredibly supportive. He demonstrated the power of having a strong work ethic, a quality that has taken me far in my professional life.
In 2009, I completed the WOS program and officially started my first role at Horizon-BCBSNJ as a software quality assurance tester. I also enrolled in my bachelor’s program in information technology at Kean University. It was a crazy time. I worked seven days a week: I had a security job on the weekends, went to school full-time at night and worked full-time at Horizon during the day. Plus, I was expecting my first child. But the hustle was worth it because WOS fully paid for my undergraduate education. The organization also paid for a professional wardrobe, books and project expenses. This financial assistance was instrumental to my future success.
Fast forward to a decade later, I’ve held several roles at Horizon-BCBSNJ. In 2013 when I began my most recent role at Horizon as IT Information Systems Analyst, I enrolled in an MBA program at Saint Peter’s University. Horizon paid for the degree in full. When I graduated in 2015, I was completely loan-free.
Now, at age 30, I have three degrees under my belt and am considering pursuing a Ph.D. In January 2019 I recently moved on to a new role as Technical Systems Analyst Specialist at Prudential Financial in Newark, NJ. I’m also an adjunct professor at Essex County College as teaching is becoming another passion of mine and a way to give back to my local community.
I don’t know where I would be without WOS. It helped me, a young kid born and raised in Newark, NJ, and leveraged my strong work ethic to put me in an amazing position. I was able to secure a beautiful life for my wife and our four children because of that experience. I cannot recommend the WOS program enough.