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For four days a week, 12 grueling hours a day, Kimberly Paulissaint would stand and ring up customers, stock shelves, or assist customers at the supermarket where she worked. She made $7.75 an hour after a raise.

While working a full-time job and raising her five-year-old brother, she also earned her associate’s and bachelor’s degrees.
At just 24-years-old, Kimberly has had an eventful life, making extraordinary leaps, and her career is just getting started. She is now a search engine marketing assistant at Generator Media.

Reflecting on the recent past, she speaks with the wisdom of someone far beyond her years.
“Everything happens for a reason and you learn to be humble,” she said. “If you’re accustomed to getting everything you want, you don’t appreciate it when you earn it.”

Things have never been easy for Kimberly. Her long climb began when she was 12 years old and living with her father and older sister in Haiti. The economy hit a major slump and things became difficult. Her father wanted her to have a better life, opportunities, and the best possible education, so he sent her and her sister to live with their mother in New York.

“It was really hard without my dad,” Kimberly recalls. “I was a ‘daddy’s girl.’ We were very close and I grew up with him all my life.”

It was a difficult and sudden transition at a fragile age and school was a struggle as well.

“I had no friends and I didn’t speak English,” she said.

Despite the language barrier, she excelled at math and her fellow students began to seek out her help. Through math she began to make friends and adjust to her new life. That was when she also discovered her true passion.

“I love numbers!,” she said with laugh.

In 2010, Kimberly’s life was once again turned upside down. Her mother was visiting Haiti when a massive earthquake devastated the country. Her mother had no choice but to remain there and help her family rebuild in its wake. By then Kimberly had a younger brother, and her mother wanted him to join her in Haiti.

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“I didn’t want him to be shipped off like I was and be ripped away from everything he knew,” Kimberly said.

Just 18-years-old and about to begin college, Kimberly bravely volunteered to raise her five-year-old brother. Her mother agreed and Kimberly soon realized what an enormous responsibility she had taken on.

“I learned very quickly that saying it was one thing, but doing it was another,” she recounts. “I know what it’s like to be a single mother now.”

Every morning, she rushed to wake him up and get him ready for school, before she dashed off to her shift at the supermarket or classes at the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC). With her grueling work and class schedule, she wasn’t able to pick up her brother until 9PM, so she had to find and pay for someone to care for him afterschool.

Time was always her enemy. Even when not working at the supermarket, her 12-hour days continued. When not in class, she was either in the library studying, tutoring other students, or working as a classroom assistant in BMCC’s early childhood education program to make a little extra.

Through sheer tenacity and hard work, Kimberly earned her associate’s degree and then a bachelor’s in business, management, and finance with a minor in business law from her dream school: Brooklyn College.

Despite graduating college, she struggled to launch her career. All the jobs she applied for required previous experience through internships. But those internships were unpaid, and she needed to work to support herself, so they were never a possibility.

She had reached an impasse. To pay the bills, she took a job as a customer service representative, but it left her unfulfilled and poorly paid with little opportunity for advancement.

Kimberly remembers thinking at the time, “I have a degree. It should be easy to get a job, that’s why I went to college. I should be able to go somewhere with my life.”

Everything changed when she got an email from COOP, an innovative Robin Hood-funded job training program that teaches participants digital marketing and tech skills.

She applied immediately, interviewed, and was accepted.

“Getting into the program was one of the happiest moments of my life,” she gushed. “It was like the internship that I really needed.”

“Getting into the program was one of the happiest moments of my life,” she gushed. “It was like the internship that I really needed.”

Prior to the program, she had never heard of digital marketing, but as she had always done, she dedicated herself entirely to learning and worked relentlessly.

For 16 weeks, while working nine to five, she attended over 60 workshops and learned the intricacies of digital marketing including web analytics, search engine optimization, paid social, and more.

“I was really shy, so the interview boot camps were really helpful in improving my interview and presentation skills,” she said.

All her hard work paid off when she met her future boss at a COOP job fair.

“We started talking about math and I got really excited,” she said laughing. “We totally bonded over numbers, it was great! Math is always bringing people together.”

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Now her days are filled with her life-long passion — numbers — and she is able to put her college degree to use. At Generator Media, she helps optimize online ad campaigns by analyzing data and creating customized reports. She recently got a promotion and is now an SEM Coordinator.

She also makes nearly double what she had as a customer service representative and there is room for growth.

“If it wasn’t for COOP nothing like this would have been possible,” Kimberly said. “I would have still been a customer service rep. I never imagined I could get all the benefits and things that I have now. It’s incredible.”

Meanwhile, at home things have gotten a lot easier. Much to Kimberly’s relief, her mother has returned from Haiti and resumed her role as the head of the household.

“Now that everything has slowed down again, I’m back to being a big sister and annoying my little brother,” she joked.

Kimberly is uncertain what the future will hold, but she knows it is brimming with possibility.

For now, she is eager to give back and help others. Kimberly serves as a cohort captain at COOP, sharing what she has learned.

“It’s important to never forget where you came from or what you went through,” she said. “The sky is the limit, but you just need the door to open in one place then many more doors will open for you.”

By: Eugene K. Chow

Photos: John-Francis Bourke


COOP is a Robin Hood-funded job training program that helps recent CUNY graduates, who are underemployed or unemployed, launch their careers in digital marketing. More than just tech skills, COOP creates a tightly-knit community by breaking participants into small cohorts led by COOP alumni who are a few steps ahead in their career. Each cohort learns together, shares knowledge, and supports one another throughout the process.

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