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This Nonprofit Sets Up Immigrant Youth for Professional Success

SPEAKHIRE is a Visit.org partner nonprofit that works to develop the social and cultural capital of individuals from immigrant families, in order to become leaders in the workforce. On our platform, the virtual volunteering activities they offer include both mentoring and speaking opportunities. The focus of each experience is on supporting, preparing, and empowering community members in order to help them open doors to professional opportunities. In the Q&A below, the organization discusses their impact on the immigrant community and how your team can get involved in this important work.

How did your organization get its start?

SPEAKHIRE was created as a concept in 2013 after Hetal Jani realized as a social entrepreneur owning an academic support service that focusing on academic outcomes is not enough. Many people do well academically and go to college but not everyone goes on to have careers and realize their potential.

In 2013, when a 12 year old student, who we’ll call ‘Laura’, received her first 80 on a middle school essay, her father, who believed only excellence resulted in success, threatened to send ‘Laura’ to their home country to get married. Her mother was the one who had identified how having a strong network of culturally understanding and responsive role models would help her daughter speak up for herself and help her continue to pursue academic and career goals.

That is why SPEAK is in our name. We were originally founded as SPEAK Mentorship in 2015 to enable girls of immigrant backgrounds to become future workforce leaders. First generation and immigrant youth need culturally understanding and responsive career professionals in their lives, social capital, to reach their full potential.

Finding that cultural environments contributed to academic and career choices, we developed culturally responsive innovative solutions that help immigrants understand their different options in college, majors, and careers. As a daughter of immigrants, Hetal Jani  knows how critical it is to build the culturally responsive connections for these youth so they can become tomorrow’s workforce leaders.

Tell us about the impact SPEAKHIRE has made on the community. Any success stories you’d like to share?

3 years later and I still keep in touch with my first SPEAKHIRE Career Pathways Champion, who has been critical through my college process!

Maria attends a Brooklyn high school that shares one counselor with another school. When we met her in 9th grade, Maria had just arrived from Mexico with little English and interested in becoming a game developer. Through SPEAKHIRE, Maria learned English and explored STEM jobs through her Champions, her first an IBM Watson Engineer. Today, she is applying to colleges like Columbia to pursue computer science and has high AP scores.

Career guidance and support through innovative social capital and network development expands the circle of opportunities for individuals and forms the critical connections they need to make realizing those opportunities tangible. Through our activities, individuals develop a network of culturally responsive peers and Career Pathways Champions through which they gain internship experience and learn career and leadership skills to get a head start on the college and career process, develop social-emotional skills, improve academic performance, and possess more self-agency, which helps uplift their communities.

How does offering virtual activities through Visit.org help your organization’s mission?

It helps us reach a wider audience to meet our demand. There is great need, and we’re really specific with how we identify volunteers for our opportunities. Having Visit.org’s reach helps us ensure we reach the best volunteers to meet the outcomes we’re expecting for the people we serve.

How can corporate teams help you achieve your mission?

The work of lifting up the next generation of diverse workforce leaders takes a community of corporate teams that understand they have to give back and support the next generation to really meet the demands of our future. Because SPEAKHIRE is focused on developing the talent pipeline, all of our volunteers come from corporations and organizations, and they know what it will take for the next generation to really step into their shoes. Therefore, this work we’re doing could not be done without corporate teams.

Do you see changes in people’s mindsets after volunteering with your organization?

Yes, for sure. This type of work requires someone to have a growth mindset. You don’t know what you don’t know, and we see most of our volunteers learn from the young people they are matched with either about situations they weren’t previously aware of, inherent biases, their own privileges, or their own existing barriers. All of these are so critical to make sure we’re also developing the current workforce to be more aware and empathetic so that they can do the necessary work right now to build the workplaces that will more readily include the future generation of workplace leaders. All of our volunteers keep coming back because they grow and, through their growth, the experience becomes more fresh and they, themselves, feel more empowered to make change.