Miguel Rojas-Hammond never gave up. There were times when doing so would have been the easier option, but he never gave in
He tried out for OPPD’s line technician boot camp and didn’t make the cut. So he kept at it, attending OPPD’s cable splicer and meter technician boot camps as well. He wasn’t hired from those either.
But things changed when he went through the street lighter boot camp. This time the call resulted in a job offer.
“It hit me super hard,” he said. “But through it all, I just kept telling myself, ‘OPPD is my goal, OPPD is my goal.’”
On May 13, Rojas Hammond was one of 42 Legacy I3 students who graduated from the program that helps OPPD expand its talent pipeline. Rojas-Hammond was chosen to speak at the event and share his story. Because COVID-19 restrictions postponed two graduation ceremonies, three Legacy classes actually took part in the ceremony this year, held at the Salvation Army Kroc Center. Rojas-Hammond was one of those prior graduates.
The program is free for all high school students who take part. It focuses on “OPPD’s intentional efforts to cultivate and build a diverse workforce pipeline,” said Michelle Homme, a senior Diversity & Inclusion consultant at OPPD.
Students complete a special curriculum that includes learning essential workplace and social skills and exposure to mentors from OPPD or one of the other companies involved. The goal is to graduate from college and become employees of the utility or other partner companies.
Other companies that partner with OPPD are QLI, Charles Drew Community Health, OneWorld Community Health, Turner Construction, CLAAS of America and the Peregrine Hotel.
The program, now in its fifth year at OPPD, started in Chicago to attract, train and retain local, diverse talent.
“It’s always special when a student lands a full-time job, but Miguel’s is the one hire date I remember,” Homme said. “It’s one of those things where whenever you impact someone’s life, it is bigger than you.”
Rojas-Hammond said the Legacy program has impacted who he is and bettered his life. As a senior at Omaha South High School, he didn’t care whether or not he graduated. His family was poor and no one in the family had graduated high school, he said. He felt he had few options until the principal at South called him to the office to talk.
“I had no idea what was going on, but that’s where I heard about Legacy, and I didn’t think it sounded like something I wanted to do,” he said. “But I told him I’d think about it.”
Over Christmas break, Rojas-Hammond went to Mexico with his family to visit family members there. When it was time to return to Omaha, he couldn’t get back into the country right away because of a mix-up with his passport.
“I kept thinking, ‘I’ve got to get back, Legacy is starting up and I’m going to miss it.’ That’s when I knew I was going to do it. For once, I had a goal and decided I wanted to go to college.”
While in Mexico, he called the principal and Homme to tell them he was going to give Legacy a shot, but that he would be a little late coming back.
Once in the Legacy program, he started to learn about different careers. He was intrigued by line work and interned with the line technicians. He loved it. Finally, he knew what he wanted to do with his life.
Rojas-Hammond began the work of achieving that goal.
Less than a year after graduating high school, he graduated from Metropolitan Community College with an associate’s degree in applied science utility line technician earned through an accelerated program.
Between graduation and being hired by OPPD, Rojas-Hammond worked at IES Electric and Superior Lighting. That work took him from Gothenburg, Nebraska, to Albuquerque, New Mexico. He gained experience working on transmission lines and helped build a substation from the ground up. He said being away from his family was hard, but he kept telling himself, “OPPD is my goal,” and kept working toward his dream.
At the Legacy graduation ceremony, Rojas-Hammond told the students he is now achieving those dreams, and he encouraged them to never give up and to believe in themselves.
“There were a lot of times I didn’t feel like I was good enough, yet I still managed to push through and make something of myself,” he said. “To everyone here tonight, don’t let anything make you lose focus on your goals. It’ll be hard sometimes, but just remember what the end goal is.”
He said he will serve as a mentor and a role model to family members and the community and plans to eventually get into one of OPPD’s four-year apprentice programs. And he’s looking to buy a home.
Homme, and those who know Rojas-Hammond, know that’s exactly what he will do.
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