As a product of the New York City public school system as well as a former teen mom, Johanna DeJesus understands the importance of social services. The South Bronx native began pursuing her lifelong calling at the age of 14 when she sought part-time employment to escape bullying. Little did she know at the time, but the day she entered her high school’s career services department would lay the foundation for the rest of her professional life.
“The Director of Career Services knew someone at the Planned Parenthood located in the Hub [in The Bronx], and they were looking for tutors for an after-school program,” DeJesussaid. She still remembers one of the interviewer’s thought-provoking questions: “What’s a leader to you?” Although her response might be more polished if she answered that question today, she landed the job and began working with at-risk children.
DeJesus’stutoring experience paved the way for what would become a highly rewarding career. With more than 20 years’ leadership experience, currently she’s a Senior Vice President of SoBROand oversees Youth, Adult Education, and Workforce Development Services.
Since 1972, SoBRO’s mission has been to reverse the flight of businesses and jobs from the South Bronx. Over the past 40-plus years, the organization has served more than 20,000 students, and assisted in the creation of more than 40,000 jobs for South Bronx residents.
Despite the great strides that SoBRO has made, however, DeJesus said that funding is still required to train Bronx residents to compete in today’s job market. SoBRO assists with job readiness, career development, job placement, and more, but the borough could use additional funding to help individuals who lack high school diplomas.
“What I love the most about my work is when participants obtain their high school equivalency, receive an industry workforce certification, are promoted to the next grade level, pursue higher education, or become proficient English speakers,” DeJesus said. “To say the least, it is incredibly gratifying work.”
Tracy Kaler is our ground reporter covering the Bronx.