Connecting with and Shaping a Generation
~By Gloria A. Morgan
Little is known about the Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection (HWSC), created in1996 as a nonprofit. To put it succinctly, the goal of the organization is to keep at-risk, under performing students in Rochester City School District high schools in school to ensure graduation. The students are assigned advocates who provide intervention, resources, and support to reduce and/or remove any barriers that prevent graduation. The advocates are housed at the high school. The students are employed at a variety of businesses. Employment is an incentive that requires good grades and excellent attendance. Once known as the Wegmans Work-Scholarship Connection when founded in 1987 by the Wegman family in response to the Urban League of Rochester’s call to action, the agency seeks to improve the Rochester School District’s low graduation rate. Unfortunately, that rate has not improved in over 25 years. The goal of the Wegman family was to improve the community as a whole and diversify the workforce.
Early one Saturday morning I had an opportunity to have an enlightening conversation with Tyrone (Ty) Kelly, Sr., Director of Youth Programs at Wegmans Food Markets. You all know the place–ranked #1 for Corporate Reputation among the “100 most visible companies” nationwide. He is responsible for supervising the students in Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection. Ty talks about the students as if they are his children. He maintains a notebook with pictures of those who have graduated and are currently employed by Wegmans. The gleam in his eyes and excitement in his voice motivated me to intentionally view each picture and bio as he flipped the pages. He speaks as a proud father sharing the accomplishments of his
children. He has a reason to be proud. The on-time graduation rate for the HWSC students employed by Wegmans is 98%. I believe their amazing success is due to this laid-back, mild-mannered man with energy that is infectious—he connects with them.
Ty shares that he was “hired to build a pipeline from high school to employment.” Once in the position, he found after reviewing report cards that many had to have hours reduced. Additionally, there were social issues the student employees were confronting on a daily basis. Even though there was an advocate at the school, he became the advocate at the workplace.
He encouraged the store and line managers to hold the students to the “same standards required of the other employees and to not compromise.” Positive results were realized and this year he celebrates over 21 years in the position. Wegmans currently employs over 400 HWSC students.
Not only is little known about the HWSC, but little is also known about this father and grandfather who enjoys preparing meals for his family. He and his wife Yolanda have been together for 35 years and have three adult children and four grandchildren. Ty, Jr. is a business owner, Michael, a Buffalo State graduate, has been employed by Wegmans for nine years, and Kirsten, a sophomore at Syracuse University, is a four-year employee of Wegmans.
Ty was ‘born and bred’ in Rochester and grew up on Cady Street, off of Jefferson Avenue. This Madison High School graduate’s path to his current position was not a direct one. He has an accounting background and attended college at Hampton Institute and RIT. He became a quality engineer and
has extensive experience with quality control. He has worked for many companies in a variety of positions. Most would be surprised to know that he was a meat cutter at Wegmans. Yes, he “learned the skill in order to determine ways to improve upon quality and cost efficiency.” Eventually, he earned a corporate-level position; later he became a store manager.
Our conversation shifted to the core of Ty’s philosophy about education. Ty expresses concern that “parents tend to focus on the GPA of their child and not fully understand that college and career readiness is most important.” He also voices concerns about many high school students who do not perform in reading and math at grade level. The more he discussed matters related to education and high school completion, I realized that this man and I shared the same perspectives and philosophies—so I had an epiphany: I’m interviewing me. It was an unusual feeling; at times I was in total silence as I listened to him speak.
Ty attributes his strong work ethic to his father Gerald E. Kelly, Sr.; at times his father worked three jobs to support his wife and seven children. His mother was a stay-at-home mom, and he values that his wife had the ability to do the same. He is very much aware of the sacrifices made by his father to provide for the family. He had mentors who were a part of his personal and professional life and reflects upon their guiding his path as a young adult. He admits that he had adversity and challenges and realizes “the older people saw me trying and were willing to help; they looked out for me and supported me.” When asked about his worst mistake he responded, “I try to forget them and learn from them because my biggest achievement may be in my future. I do not keep a tally or score (doing so is against who I am), I do what is needed and move on.” As shared earlier, Ty enjoys cooking and considers his greatest accomplishment to be that the family would have dinner together six out of seven nights a week! He ensured connecting with his children in his personal life and embraces connecting with his student employees in his professional life.
Dr. Gloria Morgan is Director of Academic Affairs at Rochester Educational Opportunity Center. She is active in the community
serving on boards and councils of non-profit organizations.
On behalf of all of the students, and the entire staff of Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection we honor Ty and his service to the program. Thank you Ty!
1998 Benjamin Franklin Graduate
BA – University at Buffalo, African American Studies
Currently: Store Manager, Wegmans Food Markets (Woodmore)
2013 James Monroe Graduate
AS – Monroe Community College
Currently: University at Buffalo (senior), Business Administration
Management Intern, Wegmans Food Markets
With Ty’s help, thousands of Rochester young people have the opportunity top pursue their best selves through high school graduation, employment and beyond.