When Leslie Villa wanted to work toward her future career goals, she knew just where to go: She went to camp.
Villa, 20, attended United Way of Metropolitan Dallas’ Future Focus Camp for three summers in a row while in high school—two years as a camper and a third as an intern with the Future Focus team. She’s now a junior at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass., studying for a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration. In the past two years, she has completed internships with RelyOn Credit Union and Big Brothers Big Sisters Lone Star, both in Dallas.
Future Focus Camp, developed in partnership with the Dallas Regional Chamber, helps North Texas students by guiding them through job-readiness content, hearing from corporate guest speakers and building real-world skills that all industries value. “Working with near-peer college interns, participants also get an inside look at the college experience and how higher education plays a role in one’s professional journey,” said Lindsay Leahy, director of youth success in United Way Dallas’ Community Impact department.
The camp aligns strongly with education and income, two of United Way of Metropolitan Dallas’ focus areas. Through savvy career choices learned about at camp, attendees will have a much better shot at making higher incomes throughout their careers.
“Understanding career options while still in high school ensures students are able to make smart decisions when it comes to higher education, certifications or training programs,” Leahy said. “They can start mapping their futures earlier. This helps saves time and money, but it also puts a more realistic spin on decision-making: matching preferred careers with cost of living.”
The two-week camp usually takes place at United Way Dallas headquarters downtown, with field trips as part of the experience (the 2020 camp took place virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic). Since 2016, 232 students have attended Future Focus Camp. As of 2019 (with 188 total campers), 95 percent of students reported a high comfort level with interviewing and applying for a job. Also, 93 percent of students had identified a career they wanted to pursue.
Discovering her true self
Villa said Future Focus Camp helped her discover her true strengths and desires. “When I did it my sophomore year, I thought I wanted to be a pediatrician,” she said recently. “I’m very social, I like kids, and I’m a nurturer—I love to do things for people.
“But then we went to Children’s Medical [on a field trip], and I got to shadow a pediatrician. After we left, I realized I did not want that. It was completely different than what I had thought it would be. I’m just not that much of a science-y person.
“But I realized, too, that what I had learned in Future Focus about business really appealed to me. That same year as Children’s Medical, we went to AT&T and I enjoyed that so much, seeing what how a business company runs,” Villa said. “So, I knew then that for junior year, as I started prepping for the SAT, I would be looking at business schools.”
She said her goal now is to work for Deloitte, which has offices in Dallas and worldwide. She learned about the importance of networking at Future Focus and has already connected with someone at Deloitte.
Villa said that even though she’s now in her third year of college, she has stayed in touch with Leahy and also Aisha Lusk, formerly with United Way. “They have been so great, the mentorship they’ve given me. That’s one of the best things about Future Focus Camp, the relationships you make that continue.
‘I’m really, really thankful’
“Now, even if I just have an exam or whatever and I feel worried, they’re there to listen to me. It’s so great having them in my corner, and I know they’ll send me opportunities when they see them. I feel like I could go to Lindsay and Aisha for anything.”
If she hadn’t been part of Future Focus Camp, Villa said, “I still think I’d be on a good track, but I’d be way more confused! I’m really, really thankful for the focus it gave me.”
Villa hopes to pass it on: She’s going to urge her sister, Linzy, 15, to apply for Future Focus next summer.
This article was published on: Aug 28, 2020