Felipe’s Invested in Me; More Businesses Should Do the Same

NEW ORLEANS – In this guest column, Son of a Saint mentee Javier Castellon talks about the value of investing in the next generation of New Orleans leaders.

On my 18th birthday, I knew that something was up at work, but I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what it was. I figured the crew would do something to surprise me with maybe a cake or something, but what they did was actually beyond anything I could have ever imagined. 

To understand what that day meant to me, we have to go back about three years to when I began working with the team at Felipe’s and its Pinkberry franchise. Since I was 10 years old, I have been a member of the Son of a Saint mentorship program, which helps boys and young men without fathers have access to a host of programs to give them a chance at a successful life. 

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The program gave me access to the mentors, tools and experiences that helped me become a better person and a better student. As I continued to progress and grow as I headed into high school, my dreams of attending college began to change and it became more of a possibility. But I knew it was going to take more than my grades to help get me there. 

As I was entering high school at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, I learned about the partnership that Son of a Saint had with Felipe’s that allowed mentees the opportunity to work. I saw it as a chance to help my family by having consistent work in the short term while planning for my future by the time I graduated. 

For a few years, I learned the ropes at Pinkberry, which was an eye-opening experience to say the least. It was my first job interacting with customers, learning how businesses work from the inside and so much more. Now I’ve gotten the chance to work at Felipe’s, where there’s a larger staff and more responsibilities that I’ve taken on. 

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The things I’ve learned thanks to Son of a Saint and Felipe’s have been invaluable, and it’s so important to have organizations like this in the city of New Orleans helping young people like myself and my peers. Investing in the city’s youth, especially young people with tough or challenging backgrounds who don’t have access to after-school or mentorship programs, needs to become an active part of the business culture here in the city. 

Even with working with Felipe’s and Son of a Saint through all these years, I maintained a 4.2 grade point average, and coming into my senior year I was as determined as ever to make this final year of high school count. This is where we come back to my 18th birthday last August. 

Instead of a cake, it was members of Son of a Saint, Felipe’s and my mom all there as they presented me with the Son of a Saint Mentee Scholarship. It’s a $10,000 scholarship to start, with a chance to earn $40,000 if I maintain a 3.0 GPA. In the fall, I’ll begin pursuing my degree in architecture at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.  

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I know that I could not have made it this far without these programs, and there are so many more people like me out there that should get the chance to do the same. 

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