Mohit Kumar, Student Advocate & Champion Against Poverty
Our April Leader in the Spotlight features Mohit Kumar, a recent University of Alberta (UofA) graduate, who is working tirelessly to mentor students and to reduce homelessness in Edmonton. For his work in forging a partnership between Frontier College and Boyle Street to help the homeless obtain employment, Mohit received the 2015 Stars of Alberta Volunteer Award. Additionally, Mohit founded and manages EXCEL an after-school homework assistance and mentoring program, works as a realtor, and is a competitive alpine skier. In our interview, Mohit shares advice on founding a non-profit organization, becoming a realtor, and deciding which initiatives to get involved in.
1) Tell us about your experience in founding the EXCEL Program™, an after-school homework assistance and mentorship program.
I’ve had the pleasure of serving as a Boys & Girls Clubs Big Brothers Big Sisters (BGCBigs) of Edmonton & Area In-School Mentor since November 2011. For the past 4.5 years, I’ve mentored a young English-as-a-Second Language Student at McKee Elementary School, assisting in the improvement of his language skills to grade level. Significantly, this achievement not only contributed to his academic success, but also fostered the development of his self-confidence, life skills, and personal goals for the future.
Witnessing my mentee’s accomplishments was an incredible feeling of joy. I realized that if I could help him achieve success, then I could help many other deserving children achieve their best at McKee School. This was the catalyst through which the award-winning EXCEL Program™ was born. I developed the mandate of “Excite, Challenge, and Empower Learners” because through mentorship, my mentee became excited about learning, challenged himself to think outside the box, and most importantly, became empowered to excel and achieve his dreams. These are qualities my team and I strive to develop in each and every one of our EXCEL students.
I launched the EXCEL Program™ in September 2013 as a pilot project. The academic success achieved by our EXCEL Program™ students resulted in the renewed implementation of our program at McKee School during the 2014-2015 academic year. Now ending its third year, the EXCEL Program™ has become a well-functioning, sustainable organization, dedicated to serving elementary students and fulfilling a crucial need within our community. As of April 2016, the EXCEL Program™ has benefited from the commitment of over 50 leaders and role models who have mentored over 50 children. Moving forward, BGCBigs and I will be working to implement the EXCEL Program™ in schools across Edmonton, with a focus on serving inner-city schools. Additionally, we’ll be working with Edmonton Public Library to support our students academically and implement our collective vision for the program.
2) Do you have any advice for youth aspiring to found and manage non-profit programs?
The most important advice I have for youth who endeavor to create and manage their own non-profit programs is to find a cause they are passionate about, and to not be afraid to dive right into making it happen. Don’t start something that you think will look good on a graduate school application, but that you hate doing. Not only are you wasting your time, but you’re not helping your community. Moreover, if you’re going to invest your time in starting your own organization, you want to ensure its sustainability for several years to come. My philosophy has always been to dedicate 110% of yourself to your initiative to ensure its success, or don’t invest your time at all. While it will take A LOT of hard work and dedication, you can be proud of the fact that you are implementing positive change in your community!
Further, I think one of the main misconceptions is that you need to have strong, pre-existing leadership skills before you can start your own organization; however, this is not the case. While there are plenty of leadership conferences designed to help you cultivate your leadership skills, I would recommend focusing your time on actually building your organization, as opposed to worrying about having all the necessary skills before you can start. When I founded the EXCEL Program™, developing a program from the ground up and leading a group of mentors was new to me. However, through hard work and constant adaptation, I learned how to become an effective manager. In fact, the learning never stops!
3) You’re also the partnership manager between Frontier College and the Boyle Street Community Services Water Wings Employment Readiness Program, which has helped over 5,000 marginalized youth and adults find employment in the past 2.5 years. What are the most challenging and the most rewarding experiences you’ve had in that position?
One of the most challenging aspects of managing this partnership is having enough volunteers to serve our large volume of clients each day. Our program operates at two locations in Edmonton—one downtown, and the other in the northeast end of the city. Every day, we serve approximately 50 clients, each of whom have unique employment needs. Our Employment Readiness Volunteers provide one-on-one mentorship and employment preparation support. We do everything from assisting clients with studying for and earning safety tickets, job searches and applications, resume building, interview preparation, GED and trades-entrance exam preparation. As you can imagine, this specialized client support takes time, and our volunteers only have a few hours once or twice a week to spend with our clients. As such, I am constantly recruiting both volunteers and paid interns to help support Edmonton’s inner city community.
As an Employment Readiness Volunteer myself, the most rewarding part is witnessing your client successfully obtain employment. One particular client I supported was featured in the Edmonton Journal in December 2014. This client had recently been released from prison, and was in extreme distress due to being homeless. During our two weeks together, I was able to help him build a strong job application, prepare him for his interview, and help him study for his safety ticket exams, which were required for a job in construction. Through our collaborative effort, I am proud to say that this client was hired on the spot at PCL Construction’s annual job fair, and is now one of their most valuable employees!
4) In addition to your non-profit work, you are also a Professional Realtor. How did you get into realty? Do you have advice for aspiring Realtors?
For the majority of my adult life, I have strived towards my dream of becoming a physician. While my parents support my dream, my father encouraged me to have a backup career in case medicine does not work out. After my first year of university, I spent my summer at the Real Estate Training Institute, and earned my Real Estate Associate’s License. Soon thereafter, I began working with my father (a Real Estate Broker) at his company, assisting clients with buying and selling property. I’ve always had an interest in business, and becoming an entrepreneur has allowed me to explore this interest and develop many skills early in my adult life.
One main piece of advice I have for aspiring Realtors is to not to be shy; talk to people and market yourself! You’d be surprised at how many people are actually considering buying or selling their home. Convenience is a key factor when they make their decision to hire you. The fact that you are already there talking to them and can market yourself in a short amount of time saves them from having to do the work of finding a Realtor on their own! Moreover, that one person you spoke to will inevitably tell their friends about you, which ultimately means more business for you!
5) Given all of your responsibilities and the limitations of time, how do you decide which initiatives to pursue?
Time is never on my side, as is the case for most people! When deciding which initiatives to pursue, I ask myself three questions: 1) Am I really passionate about this initiative? 2) Do I have a reasonable amount of time to invest in this initiative to ensure its long-term success and its sustainability? 3) Will I regret NOT pursuing this initiative? If I answer “yes” to all three questions, then I pursue that initiative!
Want to ask Mohit a question? Schedule a chat with him today! Mohit is happy to provide advice on starting non-profit organizations, leadership, and real estate, through our free National Young Leader mentorship program.