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Interview with Ajene Bomani-Robertson, Program Manager at the Austin Foundation

Q: Why did you transition into this line of work (i.e. working with youth, fitness, and sports)?

A: First of all, coaching youth basketball is where it all started. I didn’t always know that I wanted to work with kids, but once I started coaching, it just became natural. I had so much fun interacting with the youth and it was ultimately a transformative experience.

Q: What inspired you to be a part of the Austin Foundation?

A: My second coaching stint was with Garfield High School, my alma mater. Coaching slowly became something that I was passionate about. As I was starting to look for jobs within the realm of youth, fitness, and exercise, I was informed of an open position at Willie’s gym. I applied, interviewed for the job, and the rest is history.

Q: Since you’ve been a part of the Austin Foundation, what have you learned from these young people’s lives?

A: I have learned how to listen, and how to interact with various kinds of youth. There are certain things that youth will only tell other youth, but not necessarily adults. Once you start to pick up on their relationships with each other, you will start to notice various strategies that they use to get each other to talk. My observation of these exchanges has allowed me to connect better with the youth, and I have picked up on a lot. For example, sometimes, by giving certain youth leadership roles, they will be more willing to share with you their problems, accomplishments, life stories, etc.

Q: Generally, what are some of the main kinds of obstacles the young people at the Austin Foundation face and what do you do to help them overcome these challenges?

A: It is really difficult to narrow down specific obstacles and generalize, since some of the youth that come here are extremely wealthy and others have next to nothing. Basically, every kid has a different problem – no one has the same story. Ultimately, I try to be encouraging and help the youth in every way that I can. I keep a positive outlook and help them be optimistic about life without directly telling them. My hope is that they will develop their own strategy to cope with their issues. Usually, support is what most of the youth need, and once they find themselves, everything comes together.

The biggest problems that many of these youth confront on a daily basis are gangs and drug dealers. Getting to these youth is easy and hard. Many of them have a thick shell (as a result of their gang affiliation) that requires time and patience to crack. But, once you get to the core, they’re just like everybody else. Just keeping chipping away through the shell and you’ll realize that they all just want somebody to listen to them.

Q: What did you do before joining the Austin Foundation?

A: I played professional basketball overseas in Europe for a few years and then worked for a marketing firm in New York that was contracted with the U.S. Army. Living in Europe really helped me develop my current mindset. To me, Europeans are selfless; they give, talk to everybody, and work together. But, back home in the United States, everything feels like crabs in a bucket – everybody is scrambling to get to the top and willing to take anybody down in order to get there.

Q: What are some things you’ve noticed or learned from Willie since you started working at the organization?

A: Hard work and dedication. The man never sleeps and is always doing something. Personally, I have never seen anybody so driven and passionate about what he does. Willie will literally give any youth the shirt off his back. Since I’ve been here, it seems like the older he gets, the more energy he has. He is a man that wears many hats and is not just the big boss that sits in the office. He’s out there working with the kids, and getting his hands dirty too. I have tremendous respect for a founder/owner who works just as hard as the people he hired.

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This entry was posted on August 7, 2012 by .
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