CLEVELAND — Jowan Smith knows the importance of learning how to tie a tie, but her message runs much deeper for these students at Invictus High School East in Cleveland. That's where we found her on a recent Wednesday afternoon - offering career advice, encouragement and plenty of smiles.
Since founding her non-profit 1,000 Ties in 2019, Smith has distributed tens of thousands of ties, brought in mentors, and dispensed priceless advice. But as she told 3News contributor Matt Kaulig, it all started close to home.
"Actually, it started with my son teaching himself how to tie a tie on YouTube. And so I'm watching it. I'm like, oh my goodness...I can't teach him how to tie a tie," she recalled. "But then I'm thinking there's so many other young men, in single parent households that are probably in this same situation."
Smith says that lightbulb moment inspired her to think even bigger.
"It just led me to think that we have to give them tools. We have to teach them how to be successful."
So now, Smith's program teaches them skills they can use for a lifetime. Skills like eye contact, proper greetings, resume building and networking, with the hope participants will develop their confidence so that they can interview and land jobs that will lead into promising careers.
Smith’s son Trayvon Porter is now 20 years old and the organization’s Chief Operating Officer and Youth Liaison. He also teaches chess skills to participants in the program. He says, the confidence that comes with wearing a tie has lead to many opportunities.
"It makes makes you feel more dignified when you come in with a tie and people take you more serious, so you can get further in interviews," he said. "I have plenty of people, young and old coming up to me, complimenting me on my ties. So learning how to tie a tie definitely boosted my confidence and my self-esteem."
James Hudson, Student Engagement Specialist at Invictus and mentor in the program says, he can see the power of inspiration at work in every session.
"We're showing them life lessons and that will take them further along schooling can ever go," he said. "This is a skill that gives and builds confidence[and provides] some feeling and belongness to the environment that they're in and the workforce that they're going to."
Invictus student Uriah Nelson doesn’t lack for confidence. But she told 3News anchor Jay Crawford there are so many other lessons she’s taking away from the program.
"The things that I thought that I knew, like going in wanting to be perfect, [Jowan] said, don't go in thinking you're perfect or you know it all," Nelson said. "Because you're gonna learn some things walking out of [the interview]."
Fellow student Elizabeth Carter agrees.
"[Jowan is] teaching me things that I haven't been taught before. She's been she's teaching me how to grow into an adult, basically."
It’s a message we can all get behind, and that's why when 3News and Kaulig Industries heard about the organization, we knew we had to get involved.
The Kaulig team donated nearly 200 ties to the cause - and Jay gave the organization some special ties of his own. Ties he's worn to interview sports stars like Odell Beckham Jr., Tom Brady, and many more.
"I hope you guys find these ties useful in finding a successful career path in life," Jay told the students. "I believe everybody in this room can do it."