In our society, academia, employers, and our peers place a significant amount of value on something that weighs next to nothing; a piece of paper. Although it fits the description, I am not talking about money. What I am talking about are certificates of education, something that says you spent time, effort and usually money to learn something specific to do a job. These pieces of paper come in many forms: high school diplomas, equivalence certificates, skilled trade certificates, college degrees, even industry-standard certificates. In this blog, I am going to tell you my story and the importance of a piece of paper.
My work experience takes me back to the grand age of fifteen years old; customer service was the line of business. It began on the south side of Indianapolis at a family fun center named GreatTimes. My job was to chase around go-karts all day. Turn them around when kids spun around, and try not to get hit in the process. Needless to say, there was no piece of paper required to perform this job, just some steel toe boots and the ability to evade oncoming karts!
GreatTimes was a seasonal job considering the karts don't run in the winter, so I set my vision on something that brought me indoors.
Throughout my childhood, my mother was a waitress in various restaurants at Indianapolis hotels. She suggested I find a job as a Busboy. After the application and interview process, I found myself working for the Pullman Restaurant in Crown Plaza Hotel as a Busboy. The job was great, I earned tips and was given a free meal every day I worked, however, still no piece of paper required to perform this job, just some non-slip shoes, black pants, and a white shirt.
During my time at the Crown Plaza, I excelled from Busboy to Restaurant Host. I was reluctant to leave the position; however, during my senior year in high school, I earned an internship for the Marriott Hotel on Maryland Street. My new role was working at the Front Desk, checking in the guests when they arrived. The job had its perks too, the free meal was still available, and I got to wear a suit to work every day. Like the other jobs, no piece of paper required, just some fancy clothes, a smile, and the ability to lay on customer service pretty thick!
Eventually, I graduated from high school, the internship came to an end, it was the summer after high school, and I was accepted to Purdue. I was going to be in the Engineering Program. All I had to do was find a small job to make it until August, then I was leaving Indianapolis. I did just that, I found a job working for a company called Cycle Outfitters on South Madison Ave. I was riding my motorcycle a lot at that time in my life and had experience in customer service. I was qualified, but they never cared to see my first piece of paper, my High School Diploma.
God laughs when you make plans; my plan was to go to Purdue and study engineering. That didn't happen. God’s plan was to make me a father. I knew I could not be the best father possible if I was away at college while Sheena was here at home trying to raise a child alone. I canceled my plans with Purdue and enrolled at Ivy Tech in Indianapolis to study Computer Science in the evenings. (Photo was taken in January 2010)
Raising a family selling motorcycle parts for minimum wage was not going to cut it, I had to find something that was more lucrative. I turned to factory work, Von Durprin was a factory that made door parts on the east side of town. The pay was much better, I think $10.50 per hour with overtime available. I worked as much as I could while maintaining attendance at school in the evenings. It was enough to afford one car payment and a two-bedroom apartment. I was fortunate that I grew up low income, so I knew how to survive, food was not great but plentiful when you know how to use food banks and eat banquet meals.
That was not the life I wanted, I didn't want to have the credit card debt I already had by age 19, I wanted a house, the ability to go out to eat, new clothes, vacations. I wanted more than the bare minimum. I was a "temp" for Von Duprin, meaning I could work there for 11 months on contract. IF the company was hiring at the end of the 11 months, I would be allowed to have a full-time position. Full time was significantly higher pay with benefits. I worked my tail off for those 11 months, never sat idle, I fulfilled quota more efficiently than anyone else, and worked all the overtime possible. However, that was not God's plan. When the contract elapsed, I was sent on my way, and a new group of "temps" replaced the group I was in. This was the first time I needed a piece of paper; it was a requirement I have a High School Diploma or GED to make door parts.
Now jobless, with a family, and bills to pay, I was 20 years old, failed my first year of college, and was on academic probation; things were not looking too good. I knew to quit college was not an option, I needed that piece of paper so I could get a better job, but that would not be for years to come. It was evident that I needed a piece of paper that was more than a high school diploma but less than an associate degree. What would that be, and how would I obtain it?
(This is our first Christmas December of 2010 in our first apartment)
At that time, I didn't have the answer, I filed for unemployment and was searching for a job every day, racking up more debt, and working through college. Looking back at what comes next, I believe this was another time God intervened and helped me out. My best friend had his troubles with the law. He had just been released from County Jail, upon his release, the office provided him with information about a workforce development agency. He asked me for a ride to their office, I believe it was late July early August, what I remember for a fact is how hot it was that day. He suggested that I come to wait inside while he had his meeting instead of sitting in my car.
While sitting in the office, the representative from this agency looked at me and asked: "Do you have a job?" I didn't, so naturally replied, "No." She asked me if I would like to be part of their program. Without hesitation, I told her, "YES!". She signed me up to get a CDL license, said she had a contact at the Coke a Cola, and I could be a local delivery driver. Honestly, I wasn't concerned with the title of the job. What I heard was "piece of paper" If I could get this CDL I would have a job and something I could continue to make money with until I got my degree from Ivy Tech.
It would be nice to say that this story went as expected that I got my CDL, the job at Coke a Cola and life was great, that didn't happen. Truth is, I failed CDL School, tucked my tail, went back to Victoria at the workforce agency, and told her the bad news. For whatever reason, she didn't give up on me, she said she had one more opportunity for me. There was a program at Ivy Tech called Fundamentals of HVAC, it was a 160-hour course, 40 hours a week for 4 weeks. All I had to do was pass three tests at the end of the program. Then I would earn a piece of paper that said I knew the fundamentals and a certification from the EPA that allowed me to work with refrigerant. Additionally, the workforce agency would help me buy my first $300 worth of tools!
On a much happier note, I did just that, I completed the course, earned the piece of paper, and got my tools. Now it was time to put my piece of paper to work! My first job that required my new piece of paper was at an apartment complex, Bavarian Village, on 30th and Mitthoefer. My title was Apartment Maintenance Technician, I was responsible for fixing anything that broke at the complex. The job had its ups and downs. However, on a positive note, I was making $13.50 an hour, the downside was they wanted me to live there. They even offered me a free apartment that was huge!
However, after months of working there, I witnessed cars flipped in the parking lot, frequently walked into apartments with unemployed people smoking weed all day, seen the solicitation of prostitution, knife, and gun violence. Not the place I wanted my family to live, let alone a place I wanted to live. Then one day, I received a phone call from Ken. Ken was my HVAC instructor at Ivy Tech, he sold his company to a group of guys who owned BreedLove Dobbs heating and cooling. He told me they were looking for a new Technician and he told me he put a good word in for me, I just needed to call them.
Without hesitation, I called Breedlove. Within a few weeks, I used my piece of paper to get a job as an HVAC Technician making $15 an hour with a take-home company van. I believe I was still 20 or 21 at this time, we were still in the first apartment we moved into, and still attending Ivy Tech in the evenings.
Over the next few years, I would use my HVAC piece of paper to earn more money and benefits. I ended up leaving Breedlove to go back to apartment maintenance at a place called 1201 Indiana. It was a decent opportunity for a while. We lived rent-free for a year, I finally paid off all my credit card debt, and Sheena was able to save most of the money she earned. I ended up losing the job at 1201, which is another story for another time. We had two weeks to move out of 1201 or start paying a ridiculous price to live there. The worst part being we sold all of our furniture to move in because the apartment came fully furnished.
So here I am again, jobless with a family to raise while trying to finish school at night, this time with no place to live. I still had about two years to go before I would graduate from Ivy Tech. So I needed to get another job with my HVAC piece of paper. By the grace of God, Sheena's father, a realtor, found a house on the southeast side of Indianapolis, that just went up for sale, a two-bedroom 900 SF house for $60,000. I took a job working third shift at FedEx on Massachusetts ave, just to make something while I found a better job with my piece of paper. Sheena saved enough money while at 1201 to afford a down payment on the house on a first-time home buyer mortgage, and there we were homeowners by 23. (This photo is my friend Greg and I framing out my basement that I refinished to make room to grow, I'm pretty handy with tools, I can fix or build just about anything)
The FedEx job didn't last long. I made it through an interview process for a place called Rose Aire Heating and Cooling, I was back being an HVAC Technician with a take-home Van and $15 an hour or so, life was back on track. Rose Aire didn't last long. The company was tiny and owed by a lovely woman who was manipulated by a nasty man. He convinced her to use her life savings to open this company. I could see the company failing under his leadership and, during that time, made an excellent working relationship with a man who directed me to a large company called Airtron.
Airtron was the crème de la crème of HVAC Companies to work for, high hourly wage, take-home van, and full benefits. I was finally back in the saddle, had a schedule that worked out, I had to work weekends, but it allowed me to get more course work done on Thursday at Ivy Tech during the day. As with most of my experiences, there is a lot of ebbs and flow! Just like that, on a standard air conditioner repair, I lost it all. I broke the rules, I didn't have on my gloves I cut my hand open and severed tendons in my left hand.
Fortunately, Airtron paid for my hand surgery and physical therapy. However, I was again jobless, raising a family and still working on my degree from Ivy Tech. I had just about a year to go before I was done with school, I could see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I knew I had to use my HVAC piece of paper just one more time. This time I found a place of work on the west side of Indianapolis at the Carrier Corporation.
Most people know this place from the 2016 election when they were going to move most of the jobs to Mexico. My piece of paper came in clutch one more time and landed me a role in the research and development department. I was responsible for testing air handler prototypes and working with Engineers on their designs. The year was 2013. I think I was up to $17 an hour but had no benefits, I was back in the "temp" role, I knew my time was limited.
The months went by, and the time finally came in May of 2014, where two monumental moments happened. My second child, my son, was born on the 28th. After six long years, I finally earned my next piece of paper, an Associate of Computer Science. Without hesitation, I was back on the job hunt! This new piece of paper, my associate degree, landed me a job at Celadon Trucking as a Telecommunications Technician.
This was a much different opportunity for me, traditionally, I had always worked for a dollar an hour. This was the first time I was offered a salary! They started me off at $45,000 a year with full benefits. The funny part about this role, when I took the job, I thought I would be installing things in Semi Trucks. That was not the case, my position was responsible for managing 1000+ cell phones through specialized software as well as the cellular billing affiliated with the devices. This was also my first view of corporate life on the Administrative side of the business.
My position brought me much joy; I was thrilled with where this piece of paper had brought me. However, I wanted to achieve my goal of earning a bachelor’s degree. While going through Ivy Tech, it is common to hear about transferring credits to IUPUI to finishing a degree. I still wanted that piece of paper that said Purdue on it. I went over and talk with the friendly people at IUPUI and quickly learned it was not for me. The credit transfer rate was horrible. IUPUI was going to take me an additional 3.5 - 4 years to get my bachelor's degree in Information Technology. I needed another option, I learned about another school called Western Governors University (WGU). Their program would only take me around two years to complete, and the credit transfer rate was phenomenal!
I worked at Celadon and attended classes at WGU online. WGU is an online school that is competency-based. There are positives and negatives to that model, the only negative is the highest GPA you can receive is 3.0, but it is also the lowest! The reason for that, to pass a class you have to pass a certification test, you can take a long as you need to learn the material and pass the test. Their model is six-month semesters, not sixteen weeks. Within the six months, the minimum is to complete three classes, the sky is the limit for the maximum. To this day, I recommend WGU to any working adult.
Celadon and Sheena were very gracious to me, I dedicated Monday - Wednesday from 5pm - 8pm to work on my courses. Celadon allowed me to stay after and work in one of their office buildings, and Sheena understood the time dedication. The time finally came in 2016 that I finished my course work and earned my next piece of paper, a bachelor’s degree in Information Technology. Thanks to WGU's unique design, I didn't just receive a bachelor’s degree, I also earned seven industry-standard IT Certifications. I was really prepared for my next opportunity!
The day was filled with mixed emotions when I had to leave Celadon. I had built relationships with so many people, it was like a second family. I started off my career as a Telecommunications Technician and ended it as a Mobile Device Administrator. The day finally came to pass, and I moved on to my next opportunity in August of 2016. I took a job with MOBI. They recognized my new pieces of paper and offered me a position as a UEM System Engineer starting me off at $65,000 a year with full benefits.
It was late 2016. My daughter is six years old, my son is two, Sheena and I have been working on life together since 2008. We still own our home in Warren Township. Finally, after eight years, I am done with college! So, what was next? What was the next piece of paper?
While I had been working on college and a career, Sheena had been working on her career. Her cosmetology license was her first piece of paper, Ivy Tech was her second
. Now it was time to move in a different direction. At the same time, I was bouncing around between all the different companies, she was consistently building Clients at one hair salon for eight years. The time came when she was ready to grow, after searching for a new salon to work in, she was reluctant to find one. We decided to open a salon to call her own, TruReflection Salon.
Putting the focus back on MOBI, where I was running in parallel with the salon and Sheena. MOBI was a new opportunity to learn and grow my trade in Unified Endpoint Management. I was still not done earning pieces of paper, I had no intentions of a master’s degree, but there was much to gain from Industry Certificates. During my time at MOBI, I earned five more Certificates that are specific to my line of work. I spent nearly three years working for MOBI before they were purchased by a company called Tangoe.
I used to have to find the jobs, suddenly the jobs started noticing me. My line of work is a very niche market, there are not many people who have the skills, allowing me to set the price for the next opportunity. I had to show a lot of pieces of paper for my future role. By this time, I earned Multiple Degrees, over a dozen Certificates, and ran the back end of business for multiple years. With all those pieces of paper came great reward, one day, a Headhunter found me and offered me a job with VMware.
VMware is a global IT company that develops software for Enterprise corporations. They offered me the role of Senior Consultant for their End User Computing Product Line. Along with the title came a beautiful Six-Figure salary, many benefits such as a vehicle, continuing education, travel points, healthcare, and many others. I started with VMware in April of 2019. They have been a fantastic company, but I still wasn't done.
When I was working for the HAVC Companies, I would drive around in vans all day long listening to talk radio. Innately it got me interested in politics. I would hear the arguments on both sides, see the results, and started getting irritated by them. I would find myself talking to the radio with my ideas. Needless to say, those ideas would not go very far. Around that time, I started asking questions to people I knew about how to get involved.
It all started with a beer, I was invited to a handlebar, the type of thing that you peddle around the city with a group of people, chat, and drink beer. While talking to a woman, she told me how to get involved, gave me the phone number to another person, and told me to call them. The next day I gave this lady a call, we met at Bob Evens the next week, and I was invited to a Club meeting.
After going to multiple club meetings, I found myself signing more pieces of paper, this time, I was signed up to be a Precinct Committeeman (PC). The PC is the first place to begin a political career, the responsibilities include working elections, and recruiting more people to the party. I first became a PC back in
November of 2014. Since then, I have signed many pieces of paper that have given me many titles, another story for another time. All of those titles brought me to where I am today, an Elected Official for the City of Indianapolis, City-County Councilman, District 18.
As of today, I am 30 years old, my daughter 10, and son 5. Sheena and I have been a couple for nearly twelve years, and we still live in the house we purchased seven years ago. With many more goals in sight, I know it will require many more pieces of paper to get there. Whether it be in my political career, professional career, or personal life. The importance of earning a piece of paper will never cease to exist and more importantly, the power of God's will is extremely unpredictable.
(This is our most recent family photo, Lexi (dog) has been with us for 7 years)