I grew up in a low-income neighborhood where opportunity was scarce. After school and on weekends, since age eleven, I would help my father run the family business. There, I learned the value of a dollar, hard work, dedication, and the entrepreneurial spirit.

After I graduated from high school, I started college, but it wasn’t a good time for me to pursue my education and I ended up dropping out. I wanted to do something productive—so I joined the Marine Corps. I didn’t know what other opportunity I could have taken. When I came home from my deployment in Afghanistan, I felt lost and had trouble finding what value I brought to the table. I entered the workforce with little guidance on how I could use what I had learned in the Marines to be a competitive candidate in today’s ever-changing job market.

That’s when a friend told me about Year Up—I applied and started the next week. Year Up helped me translate the skills I gained in the military—leadership, public speaking, and management—into marketable job skills. I was a sponge. I absorbed the coaching of the Year Up staff, and the guidance I received from my mentor, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, on how to manage and lead efficiently and effectively. I knew that I would succeed if I committed myself to the Year Up culture.

I earned a project management internship at Pfizer as one of their first Year Up interns. I didn’t know what to expect, but I did know I was going to give it my all. The team and level of professionalism I saw there impressed me, and my co-workers taught me how to communicate with strong individuals. After graduation, I accepted a full-time position as Junior Project Manager.

I used to make the same mistakes over and over again, but through the coaching and mentorship at Year Up, I developed a better decision making process that is helping me in my life as a graduate. I recently left Pfizer to start my own business full-time—Mike’s Ice just launched—and I know that what I learned at Year Up and Pfizer will make me a better leader and CEO. I have developed the emotional intelligence skills to help me better understand and communicate with my business partners, employees, and customers.

I look forward to creating jobs in my community, tackling income inequality, and addressing issues unique to the veteran community. I have big dreams as an innovator, entrepreneur, and leader, and know that I am growing into an individual that can push the movement forward to close the Opportunity Divide.