Buses, Trains, Big Dreams | United Way of Metropolitan Dallas

Buses, Trains, Big Dreams

Southern Dallas Thrives helps a local student follow her passion toward becoming a real estate agent

girl in a graduation gown holding up diploma

Serenity Garrett took three hours, two buses and a train—twice a day—to get to her dream. She did that for the entire summer before her senior year in high school—a time when most teens would be happy surfing, internet or otherwise.

That was in 2019, when she launched her passion of becoming a real estate agent while working as an intern in the Economic Development Department at Frito-Lay in Plano.

Garrett, then a student at South Oak Cliff High School P-Tech’s Collegitate Academy, was one of the many beneficiaries of Southern Dallas Thrives, a focused community initiative co-created in 2018 by United Way of Metropolitan Dallas and Frito-Lay.

“It’s perfect, such a great thing,” said Garrett, now 18 and a high school graduate, of Southern Dallas Thrives. “And it’s such an amazing way that Frito-Lay is giving back to the community.”

Serenity’s experience tallies ideally within two of United Way Dallas’ focus areas, education and income (the third focus is health, and as the coronavirus has vividly illustrated, all three areas are inextricably tied). Her internship will give her a head start toward a career that will allow her to earn a good living income.


Prepping students for success

Southern Dallas Thrives was created with a $2 million commitment from PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay North America, with the aim of increasing the quality of preschool education in Southern Dallas communities, providing families with nutritious meals, and preparing high school students with the career/college preparation they need—all while giving unemployed parents access to childcare needed to enter and participate in the workforce. In October 2019, one year into SDT, Frito-Lay committed another $1 million, bringing the total to $3 million.

One goal of the program is to help 85 percent of South Oak Cliff P-Tech students graduate from college or prepare to be career-ready through tutoring/mentoring efforts at SOC Collegiate Academy. While still a student at P-Tech/Collegiate Academy, Garrett earned her associate’s degree in computer information technology. She’s now looking forward to starting classes at the University of Texas at Arlington in late September.

While at Frito-Lay, she worked in the economic development department. “They really let me dive in and do actual work. Mainly I did everything hands-on, by myself,” she said of the internship’s career-building opportunity. “But they helped me when I needed it.”

“It really gave me the chance to step ahead, to do things and have resources” that otherwise would not have presented themselves to her, Garrett said. “I still talk to my managers there about all kinds of things. They are always willing to help me any way they can, to help me succeed with my goals.”


‘I can’t speak more highly of them’

Garrett, among the first group of high school interns at Frito-Lay, also had the chance to meet and network with college interns. “I learned that networking is key in the professional world, and some of them may get permanent jobs with Frito-Lay, so this was a great start. We had such good conversations; they made sure we were all on the right track and were very encouraging.”

Claude Owens, associate manager of economic development at PepsiCo/Frito-Lay, said that with its significant local presence—about 6,500 associates in the Dallas area—the company is always looking to “raise the pillars of talent and diversity,” and that these internships are key to that goal. “We’re looking for future leaders.”

Of Garrett, he said, “I’m truly amazed by her initiative, her focus, her dedication, right down to what it takes for her to just get here every day. I can’t speak more highly of them [the company’s three high school interns, including Garrett].

Derek Battie, community coordinator at SOC P-Tech, said the Southern Dallas Thrives initiative has benefited hundreds of students. The Frito-Lay Resource Center helps students with school supplies, snacks, backpacks, clothing and hygiene products. He noted that SOC P-Tech is in ZIP code 75216, the area with the highest murder rate in Dallas, and no parks or grocery stores.

Garrett, he said, is seen as the program’s “golden child. She’s beautiful, so articulate, with this huge smile. She’s an example of all this program can do for our children. She’s going to do whatever she wants in this life.”

As for Garrett: Those long bus and train rides, and that summer given up to chasing her dream—worth the loss of sleep and partying with her friends? “Totally,” she says with a big laugh. “Totally. I know what I want, and I know what I don’t want.”


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This article was published on: Aug 26, 2020