The Elevator Project

By: Sejal Makheja

Poverty , Specialist

As declared by the United Nations, the global community’s number one millennium development goal is to “eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.”

Poverty (in one form or another) exists in every country. And in the United States alone, there are 46.5 million people living in poverty, the highest in all of the Census’ records. Although living on less than $2-dollars a day is commonly associated with poverty in developing nations, some experts believe that millions of people living in America face the same challenge.

What moved me to create The Elevator Project was meeting a man named Juan at a soup kitchen in Washington, D.C. This moment I like to call my “Awakening Moment.” He shared his story and his struggles of living in poverty his entire life. Juan pinpointed the very reason he believed he was unable to gain the well-waging job opportunities he applied for was his lack of skill-attainment and education. It was in this moment that I was determined to figure out what specific forms of education he would need to come out of poverty.

In order for to help secure a full time job that would pull Juan's family out of poverty, I realized that we have to equip people with the skills that employers are looking for. Thus, the Elevator Project seeks to provide:

  • in-field training, like apprenticeship or internship opportunities;
  • hard skills training, which is vocational training that tends to take place in a classroom setting; and
  • soft skills development, most often associated with one’s interpersonal skills and one’s ability to work well with others.

The Elevator Project was founded on the notion of paying it forward, or sending the elevator back down as I like to call it. There are 6 floors to the program:

  • The GROUND FLOOR is the application process and interview. Once participants are selected, we map out their “elevator ride.”
  • The FIRST FLOOR is the in-field training level where we match an apprenticeship opportunity with our participant’s interests and chosen career path.
  • The SECOND FLOOR is the hard skills training level where participants attend vocational training courses in the field of their choosing for varying lengths of time. This floor results in a form of certification that then can be used in a job application.
  • The THIRD FLOOR is the soft skills training of: (i) self-identification via EQ test, (ii) interpersonal skills, and (iii) other job readiness items such as resume writing and interview training.
  • The FOURTH FLOOR is where participants begin the well-waging job search and application process under our guidance.
  • The final floor, the ROOF-TOP, is where participants have the opportunity to “send the elevator back down” for someone else to use, by serving as a mentor for a new participant entering our program. The floors creates a cyclical nature founded on the principle of paying it forward. 
  • I am passionate about ending poverty through education because I believe in the fundamental principal that it's better to give a hand-up than a hand-out. I founded The Elevator Project in 2012, when I was 13 years old. My school, Holton-Arms has a motto that I believe motivated me to start The Elevator Project, it is: “I will find a way or make one.” When I realized that I was passionate about eradicating poverty, I thought about what a huge problem it was to take on, but then I thought back to my school’s motto and realized that there’s no problems we cannot tackle if we work together as a global community.


The Elevator Model

GROUND FLOOR / APPLICATION: This is where your journey begins. The first step while at the ground floor is to send in your interest to be entered in the program, use the apply now page. We will send you a program applicaton and once reviewed and accepted, you will be contacted to establish the plan for your elevator ride. The options will include what floor you want to go to. For example, if you got accepted to the program and wanted to just do the vocational training program you could go straight to the second floor.  In the time that you are on the wait-list, you will recieve a catalog of courses you can be thinking about taking for floor two of the program. 

FIRST FLOOR / APPRENTICESHIP: If you are interested in hands-on, in-field training that will contribute more to your career in trades, this is the floor for you. The first floor is known as the apprenticeship program. Apprenticeships have been around since the 5th century, the purpose being to train people in a specific trade and setting them up to be successful. Apprenticeships combine in-field training and formal instruction so that participants will be able to apply their experiences when they're in the classroom. Unlike internships, apprenticeships are typically paid. The only requirement is a high school diploma.

SECOND FLOOR / HARD SKILLS: On this floor, The Elevator Project will will pay for a certification course for an approved trade such as (but not limited to) auto-repair, HVAC, Electrical, Nursing, Painting, Plumbing, Construction Management, Property Management, Food and Beverage Management, Retail and Business skills. Community colleges offer a multitude of courses which The Elevator Project will sponsor because we believe that vocational training will ultimately increase the participant's gross income. Our program focuses on providing you with hands-on training coupled with classroom instruction with the goal of provding formal certification for a future full time job-seekers. Most vocational training programs allow participants of the class to work part-time in the field that they're studying which is also an option in The Elevator Project.

THIRD FLOOR / SOFT SKILLS DEVELOPMENT:  Soft Skills are nontechnical skills such as, work ethic and resume writing, which are crucial in trying to communicate effectively in a work environment. Some examples are oral skills, work ethic, interpersonal skills, and the ability to work well with others. 77% of employers believe that soft skills are just as important as hard skills. Many people do not realize that soft skills are crucial in the workplace. Soft skills such as resume writing and interview skills are very important when applying for a job. Soft skills are just as important as hard skills because it puts the person in the workforce with skills that go beyond a classroom.

Taught by The Elevator Project team, participants will learn some of the most important lessons they will need when applying for jobs and communicating in the workforce. This is a three step process: (i) self-identification via EQ (emotional intelligence) / personality test, (ii) development of interpersonal skills which teaches participants how to work with others in their future workplace, and (iii) other job readiness items such as resume writing and interview training. Our team will teach important skills such as interview skills, resume writing, and other aspects necessary when applying for a job. 

FOURTH FLOOR / JOB-PLACEMENT: If you went through levels 1 (apprenticeship) and/or 2 (vocational training) with us, then it may be very easy for us to place you with one of our partnering oraganizations. But even if this is the first floor with The Elevator Project, we recognize that full-time job placement can be a daunting experience, which is why we provide mentors and advisors. At The Elevator Project, our mentors and experienced Members of the Board are readily available to help with writing job resumes and practice interviewing prior to your job interview. We are here to walk you through each step of the way. 

ROOF-TOP / MENTORSHIP: If you've reached the rooftop, that means you have a full-time job and have (at a minimum) attained hands-on experience or training with levels two or three from the Elevator Project. It also means you will have achieved a higher income as a result of your participation.  On this floor we remind participants that, "it's your responsibility to send the elevator back down." Some ways that you can pay it forward is by coming back to help someone going through the apprentieship program wanting to further learn and understand the same trade you learned. The aforementioned program is called The Mentorship Program. Sending the elevator back down and paying it forward is the basis of this project so it is so important that you do it even if it doesn't include The Elevator Project.

The Mentorship Program is a fantastic way to send the elevator back down after you finish the program. Mentors will get partnered with someone from the Apprenticeship Program who is planning on studying and pursuing a similar career to their mentor. The Mentor will work as someone for the mentoree to turn to for questions and will generally work on the same site where the mentoree can watch, learn, and assist the mentor in his work.

Generally the mentor will remain the mentor for an agreed amount of time. Mentors enjoy benefits such as gaining insight from the mentoree's background that can contribute to the mentor's personal development. The mentor can also gain a friend at the work place and is looked up to by the mentoree. The mentoree gains more than many people understand. They gain experience just from watching the mentor at work. There are so many things to learn that cannot be taught inside the classroom that a mentor can teach the mentoree. The mentoree alike has a friendly ear with which to share their frustrations and successes.

 For every step forward you take, lend a hand to pull someone else up to their next step, and that is truly the meaning of a community. A mentor is someone that teaches, coaches, facilitates, and challenges. Not many people realize how much of an influence a mentor can have on a mentoree, it makes all the difference. For more information on The Mentorship Program visit the page under the "Floors" tab. 


Nathaniel went through the Apprenticeship Program in the summer of 2014 and gave us this testimonial:

"The Apprenticeship Pgoram gave me so many valuable vocational and inter-personal skills that I can use moving forward every day of my life. It provided me with on-the-job training and experience with field instruction to help learn about a potential future career.  Than you again to AMR Investments, the many mentors that supported me, and especially Sejal and her Elevator Project for the opportunity of a lifetime. "

Carlos was accepted by The Elevator Project for the Vocational Training Program. He took classes in heating and air conditioning, electrical, and plumbing. Carlos notes that the skills allowed him to raise his income.

He says, "The Elevator Project helped me become an independent contractor for handy-man services, and help me secure a long term contract with a property management company to provide my services and be paid very well per year just on this one contract alone. This allows me to pay for a quality of life for my entire family."

He has been working full-time ever since. We are so proud of Carlos and everything he has done!

Jose is a graduate of The Elevator Project and has also completed the Vocational Training Program. He became skilled in construction, drywall, plumbing, painting, and repairs. He was the mentor to a participant of the Apprenticeship Program, Mauricio and they had an amazing relationship as they worked on some of the same projects.

Jose notes, "The Elevator Project helped place me in a full time contractor job. I am blessed with this opportunity and mentored Mauricio, a new applicant in the Elevator Project. It feels great to make a respectful income, provide a roof over my head, and now help mentor others." Jose was truly someone special that went through The Elevator Project because his  commitment to mentoring Mauricio was something truly admirable. He taught Mauricio skills that went so much further than a classroom. We thank you Jose for sending the elevator back down. 

Advice for my peers

My best piece of advice to other social entrepreneurs would be to find your “why”, something I like to call “The Awakening Moment,” which is the moment one realizes that their purpose on Earth is to have a profound impact on the world. I would encourage everyone to have this moment because there is nothing like the feeling when you see someone’s life completely change as a result of your movement. 

When I started The Elevator Project, I figured things out as I went. I tried to keep my parents as removed as possible throughout this process so I could learn it for myself and I have to say it’s been such a rewarding process and I’ve learned so much from it. With figuring things out as I went, there were some small bumps in my journey where I had to troubleshoot, but the thing I’ve learned from those bumps were that those are the moment we learn most from, so I wouldn’t call them bumps necessarily, rather I would call them learning opportunities. What I’ve learned from this entire ongoing experience is that passion really is the driving force behind the entire operation. My passion and determination to do all I can to eradicate poverty is what created The Elevator Project and is now what creates the impact The Elevator Project can have. 

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