Living and Thriving Union County

2nd Edition - December 2021

Greatness I'm Chasing!

by Marie Thelusma-Chase         

“I’m now using everything that I learned while at Boxwood in my current job. Sometimes I would show up for programming and just did not want to be there. I’m happy that I took advantage of the opportunity of exploring different careers. It will definitely help me in launching my company next year.” —Alejandro A., Career Exploration & Job Readiness (CEJR) program graduate

This month I had the opportunity to interview two program graduates. Check out their story below.

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Photo 1: Champion Alejandro A.


Photo 2: Champion Misael M. working at a construction site

Video 1: This video captures Alejandro while working on his multiple internships. The song on the video was written and performed by Alejandro. Thank you to the team at Cerebral Sounds in Elizabeth, NJ.

“Boxwood was like home for me. The staff were my family. I can come in and talk to anyone about my situation” —Alejandro A.

Today, Alejandro works six days a week for a construction company and takes pride in his masonry work. He wants to launch his company in 2022; he shared that every CEJR internship gave him the skill he needed to start his venture.

I think Alejandro holds the record to the youth who completed the most internships! He shadowed a local chef at their restaurant and earned his ServSafe certificate. In the two years he was enrolled in the CEJR program, he was a social media intern, a photographer for local fashion designers, and rapper (video 1 captures Alejandro working as an intern). Alejandro also attended one of our Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) classes and earned his OSHA-10 certificate for the construction industry. Alejandro was always the first to arrive and the last to leave the training workshops.

Misael is another graduate of the CEJR Program (photo 2). He knew what he wanted to do from the start: work on highrise construction projects. Today, he installs windows on skyscrapers and enjoy the financial freedom that this job gives him. This is his dream job and he aspires to continue to grow and prosper in his career. He now wants to pursue his OSHA-30 certificate.

Our agency will continue to provide professional development and coaching support to help these two champions get to the next level!

I asked both Alejandro and Misael for some pearls of wisdom for their peers. They are not yet age 22, but they shared advice that we all need!

  •  “In a year, I learned everything that I can learn at my job. Then I told my boss that I would like to get paid for what I know, not for what I do. So I got a raise.

  •  “No matter what you go through. You may suffer, but you got to keep looking forward.”

  •  “If you do not risk anything you not gonna get anything.”

  •  “If you get money, do not waste it. You gonna need it in the future. I stopped wasting my money.”

  •  “It’s always good to be yourself. If you have a support team that you can run too, then stay on the sidewalk. The street isn’t for everybody.”
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"The secret to turning around the youth that start our programs is to see them for not for who they are today but for who they are tomorrow. We treat them like champions until they start to believe in their own potential."

—Marie Thelusma-Chase

With deep sadness, December 2021 will be the last month the CEJR will be funded. One 16-year Elizabeth City youth recently told me that because of the paid internships he is no longer in the streets. The CEJR internships provided paid opportunities for teens while our partners help them to obtain proper work documents - social security card, working papers, birth certificate, etc.

CEJR program was unique because we helped youth get a "fresh start"; nearly 100 percent of the CEJR participants dropped out of high school and were on juvenile probation at the time of enrollment. So Boxwood helps them obtain their diplomas via one-on-one tutoring and help them navigate local resources. So far this year, five of them earned their diplomas in under four months; one is already in college with a goal of one day becoming an attorney (of course we are helping him with that goal).

One of the reasons why we started Boxwood is to provide continuous support to our high risk youth population. I wanted Boxwood to still run effective programs even when funding ended due to a change in funding interests.

We will find a way to run the existing and popular career exploration activities such as the music studio, investment club, culinary training, and more. I will personally keep you updated on our champions' progress.

Let us continue to strive on for our champions,

Marie Thelusma-Chase

Executive Director

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Champion Keberson E., CEJR music engineer intern

(note: he wants to start his online clothing store for his next internship)

You support our mission with every purchase from the champion's online clothing store. All quotes are from our young champions.

Greatness I'm Chasing & I Cannot Let Up! by Champion Fariq T.

Visit online store

Greatness! Expect the unexpected by

Champion Kenny E.

Visit online store
I want to learn about the different ways to support Boxwood rising stars
Photo by Cytonn Photography on Unsplash.jpg

The CEJR program is funded by the Union County Youth Services Commission through a New Jersey Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative Grant. The Union County Youth Services Commission is part of the Union County Department of Human Services, Division of Youth Services.

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