Breaking the cycles of incarceration before it begins

Breaking the Cycle of Incarceration – Before It Begins

A 10-week program for at-risk youth not only unlocked Sam’s Club career opportunities for Jalyssa Zaragoza, but also her potential.

As a young girl, Jalyssa Zaragoza says hope was not something she relied on. Her mother was in the Dallas County Detention Center when she gave birth to Jalyssa, and she spent part of Jalyssa’s childhood in and out of lockup.

“I can say that growing up, I didn’t have much hope,” Jalyssa said, “because my hope always got let down.”  

Jalyssa was 19 when she was introduced to Unlock Potential (UP), a groundbreaking youth hiring program that connects at risk youth with major employers and provides them access to good jobs, which can lead to long-term careers as well as a free college education through Live Better U.

When she heard about UP, Jalyssa said, “I was like, ok, this is it.”

Sam’s Club began its partnership with UP in July 2022, and in May 2023, Jalyssa was matched with a club in the Dallas area. Through the program, Jalyssa was given the opportunity to apply herself in all areas of the club, developing skills ranging from fresh food production and member service to financial planning and effective communication. While Jalyssa’s fellow associates said Jalyssa was timid and quiet in her first days on the job, as week one progressed into week two, then three, then 10, Jalyssa’s confidence, as well as her sense of hope and belonging, blossomed. 

“So, when Jalyssa first started, our conversations were very minimal,” Emilio Duarte, club manager, said. Over time, she started asking questions, offering feedback, and then suddenly Jalyssa was everywhere – the bakery one day, the member service desk next, then the café, the front line and even taking curbside orders out to members.

“She’s really picked up on why we’re here,” Emilio said. “It’s not just a job. It’s to serve our community, to serve our members and most importantly to serve our associates.”

“I’ve proved not only myself but the people around me wrong,” Jalyssa said. “I broke that cycle.”

Jalyssa’s mom, Angelica, says the program brought out a spark of leadership in her daughter.

“My girl is going to turn into something way more than I could ever dream,” Angelica said.

While Jalyssa graduated from the 10-week UP program in August, her Sam’s Club story remains unfinished. Today, Jalyssa is continuing to grow her career with Sam’s Club as a full-time associate.

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