Venture capitalist Russell Pyne steps into the classroom, teaching life skills to JobTrain clients
Atherton resident Russell Pyne has had a long association with JobTrain, the Menlo Park-based non-profit that provides career counseling and job placement services that help people break out from a cycle of poverty due to low education levels, homelessness, drugs, crime, and/or prison. He was a board member for 17 years and served as board chair. He’s currently experiencing the organization in a new way, leading a twice weekly Life Skills Boot Camp.
“In a way, I like to think I was promoted,” he said. “It’s the next step in my evolution in getting to know JobTrain. Previously, I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with the clients.”
The boot camp grew out of workshop on personal finance that he taught a year ago at the suggestion of JobTrain Executive Director Sharon Williams. “As a VC, my life is focused on finance and entrepreneurship,” said Russell, who is founder and Managing Director of Menlo Park-based Atrium Capital. “Teaching the workshop was a wonderful experience. My students responded so positively that I decided I wanted to do more.”
He worked with one of his students, Alfred Banks, to develop a life skills curriculum. “The whole mission of the boot camp is to level the playing field,” he said. “Some people have the benefit of growing up being mentored by parents, teachers and bosses. Others have no positive role models. Alfred and I tried to focus on the basic life skills you need to be prepared for the working world.”
Over a 10-week period, there 20 individual workshops. The initial classes focus on soft skills like goal setting and conflict resolution. The next set is around job readiness. The final weeks of the boot camp tackles survival skills — things that are required to manage day-to-day life.
“At the end of the boot camp, each student will create a life plan using power point,” said Russell. “Some haven’t ever used a computer, so this is a big step.
“We have 20 students and more on a waiting list. In the selection process, we wanted students who were motivated to change and willing to work hard to make the change. Most have a background of incarceration, addiction, or abuse — sometimes all three. We also chose half the students from organizations other than JobTrain.
“We’re hoping the students will stick together as a group, and that they will come back and share their stories with future boot camps.”
Photos by Irene Searles