What do 25 recent college graduates and 18 preschoolers have in common? You might think, “Not a lot” – but you’d be wrong.
We began this journey together: it was their first month of Pre-K, and it was our first job after graduation. We were all wide-eyed and full of hope for what was to come! Little did we know the impact that we would have on one another’s lives over the next year.
Cisco’s Sales Associate Program (CSAP) hires recent graduates with limited to no work experience and trains them to take on a sales role. Learning Together is a school that sits in downtown Raleigh and has been serving kids of all abilities since long before government regulations began to protect children with developmental delays, and they teach them in an inclusive environment. It’s worth noting that over 50% of the student body lives below the federal poverty line, and 73% of the students have developmental delays.
For the last year, CSAP has been volunteering a minimum of once a month at Learning Together.
I’ll never forget the first day we spent with the kids. While we were out on the playground, a little boy crawled into my lap. He was shy, tentative to tell me his name. He would just shake his head and bury his face in my shirt when I tried to engage him in conversation, and eventually, he fell asleep in my arms. It was incredible how much he trusted me in such a short amount of time, and I was determined we were going to be the best of friends.
Fast forward to our last volunteer trip to the school, nearly a year later. I walked onto the playground and a little form sprinted towards me. “Miss Tracy read this book with me!” Nolan, the same little boy from before, called out, a sandy paperback raised high over his head.
Nolan and I have come a long way together. He’s much more vocal now; you can generally find him chatting it up with his best friend Leyah. He points at pictures and identifies objects when we read, and he can put together a pretty awesome popsicle stick picture frame. Concurrently, I’ve become much more tech savvy. I can speak to Cisco’s vast portfolio and am ready to bring value into a business discussion with any of our customers. Although Nolan and I are at very different points in our lives, we are both fortunate to be in environments that foster our constant learning and growth.
At this point, most of our preschool friends are gearing up to start kindergarten in the fall. Meanwhile, our CSAP class is gearing up to move into Virtual Account Manager roles. Both are very exciting life changes! I have no doubt that our little friends will have great success in their coming elementary years, and I have no doubt that my friends and colleagues will have great success as they tackle new roles here at Cisco. The time we spent with the children at Learning Together over the last year has made all of us better, but I would argue that we learned more from the students than they learned from us.
A few examples of what we’ve learned from the eyes of my fellow CSAP-ers here at Cisco:
- “The smallest interaction can make a lasting impact, even if no words are spoken.” – Gabby Khoury
- “Living in the moment, embracing youthful energy, and appreciating life for what it is, leads to ultimate happiness.” – Charlie Johnson Malijar
- “I learned to cherish my education, as well as how meaningful it is to give back to organizations like Learning Together which ensures children from all walks of life are able to thrive and reach their full potential.” – Ryane Lake
We were so inspired by our time at Learning Together that we began to dream about how we could help fill the gap between what the school had and what they needed to give these kids the best care possible. That dream became a reality at CSAP’s inaugural Bridge Gala.
It was a night of community, punctuated with food, drinks, music, and a silent auction. Our initial goal was to raise $30,000, but we ultimately raised over $40,000 for Learning Together during the first year of the Bridge Gala. That money will establish the CSAP Food Pantry at Learning Together, where families can receive meals and toiletries as needed; it will fund scholarships to bridge gaps for students who have therapy needs; and it will help some really great people continue to do a thankless job – teaching the youth in our community.
But it isn’t about the money. It’s about Nolan. And Leyah. And Carter. And Annabelle. And all the other little faces that came running to greet their “buddies” every time the door opened. Cisco provided us with the time and resources to get to know a really special group of kids, to have our days brightened and lives enriched by them every month over the last year. I can’t wait to see the incredible people they grow up to be.
On June 6th, we graduated CSAP, and they graduated preschool. It’s a bittersweet time. We’ve gone through two different growth journeys this past year, and I like to think we enhanced their journey at least a quarter of how much they enhanced ours.
Between our generation and generations to come, there’s a bridge.
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