Growing up in the projects of Washington D.C., Tracie Edmond never knew when her family’s water or lights would be cut off. When a high school counselor connected her to an apprenticeship program at the Pentagon, she found a path to a better life.
The program showed her new possibilities, gave her money to pay for college and gave her the experience she needed to get her first job after graduation.
“That apprenticeship changed the trajectory of my life,” she said. “The cycle of poverty ended with me. The fact that it gave me a way out of the projects gave me a passion to want to do that for other people like myself.”
Today, Dr. Tracie Edmond is a professor of accounting at the University of the Incarnate Word. She is also the founder and CEO of CAVALRY (Center for Acknowledging the Values, Accomplishments and Lives of Remarkable Youth), a non-profit organization she created in 2005 to give young people the same life-changing opportunity she had.
Edmond was a Social Venture Partners San Antonio Fellow in 2021 and 2022.
For CAVALRY, community service is both a mission and a training ground for young people preparing for careers.
CAVALRY brings together the education, non-profit and for-profit sectors to offer project management skills to high school and college students from underserved communities. The program creates a pathway to well-paying careers by providing training along with hands-on experience developing programs that benefit local nonprofits.
Students can coordinate drives for donations, food or clothing or organize special events, such as a competition modeled after “The Amazing Race.”
“We’re unique in that our project managers take on projects that benefit the community,” Edmond said. “As they’re doing these projects, they’re also developing the skill sets needed in the project management industry.”
Through CAVALRY, high school students can earn a stipend along with a pre-apprenticeship credential. High school graduates can go on to apply for an apprenticeship, which provides a pathway to earning a Certified Associate Project Management (CAPM) certificate, a globally recognized credential.
If a student’s career interests require a two- or four-year college degree, CAVALRY helps students identify scholarship opportunities with the Alamo Colleges District, UIW, Texas A&M San Antonio and Trinity University.
CAVALRY also connects students with business partners for networking and employment opportunities. The non-profit works with local companies in industries including construction, event planning, information technology, finance, data analytics and gaming.
“We work with students to figure out their interests and how they want to utilize their skills and place them with a for-profit partner, then they become first in line for jobs with that employer,” Edmond said, adding that students who go through the CAVALRY program can start careers that pay from $45,000 to $90,000 a year.
The non-profit shifted its focus following COVID-19 pandemic, expanding from leadership training to job training. CAVALRY recently became designated as an Eligible Training Provider by the Texas Workforce Commission and is part of the San Antonio Ready to Work educational and job placement program.
“We realized we could add more value to the leaders that come through our program if we help them get certified,” Edmond said.
The program is changing the life trajectories of its participants. For example, one group of five high school students completed CAVALRY project management training during COVID shutdowns. Edmond met with the group remotely each week to teach them skills, and the students created a virtual service project that created an impact of $75,000 in the community. Each of the five students received a full-ride scholarship to a university.
The program offers other benefits as well. Research shows that receiving assistance can sometimes damage the self-esteem of those in underserved populations. CAVALRY counteracts that by empowering its participants to make a positive contribution to their communities.
“It really makes a difference, because now they’re the ones doing the serving and making the impact,” Edmond said. “They will bring others up with them.”
CAVALRY aims to recruit more businesses and non-profit to its database of community partners, as well as expand its reach into area schools. The non-profit currently has partnerships with three local high schools, with a goal of expanding the program to 10 local schools.
“Any Title I school is where we’d like to situate ourselves,” she said. “Those are the students we can have the most impact with, the ones who need the most assistance in terms of breaking the cycle of poverty.”