A Scouter in Kansas City helps teens discover potential career paths

Mentoring is job No. 1 for Lester McKinzy, Explorer Post 2967 advisor


In 2011, the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce unveiled the “Big 5,” a group of initiatives designed to create economic opportunity and establish a more vibrant Kansas City region. One of those initiatives sought to revitalize the inner city by, among other things, helping young people prepare for college and career.

That’s where Scouting came in. Exploring, a program of the BSA’s Learning for Life affiliate (exploring.learningforlife.org), is all about career exploration, so a partnership seemed a natural fit.

Terry Dunn, a key leader in the Urban Neighborhood Initiative, is a longtime member of the Heart of America Council’s executive board. Dunn’s company, JE Dunn Construction, pledged to create an Explorer post and tapped Lester McKinzy to help start it. The post officially launched in January 2013, and McKinzy took over as Advisor a little more than a year later.

A Kansas City native, McKinzy had never been involved in Scouting or Exploring, but he jumped at the chance to serve. “I had a burning passion to work with youth in the area of career development,” he says. “It ended up being a great fit.”

Most posts focus on a single career field, but your post takes a broader view, exploring all sorts of careers. Why is that? We expose students to various types of careers in hopes they’ll catch fire to what they’re passionate about. I think there are very few high school students who really know what’s out there for them as possible career options. When I was 15 or 16 years old, I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do. It was all based on what my friends, parents and others said I should go into, not necessarily what I liked or what I was passionate about.

That problem isn’t limited to the inner city, is it? No. I believe that’s the reason we have a high percentage of students who go to college and change their major. They think they know what they want to do, but until they get hands-on experience, they don’t know what’s required. You say you want to be an engineer because it looks like fun and it’s very interesting, but you get to college and find out you have to take structural analysis, you have to take all the levels of calculus and all those things.

You talk a lot about simply exposing teens to career options. Why is that important? I think with any student, whether in the inner city or suburbs or whatever the case may be, exposure is extremely important. It puts them in a position to dream; it helps them put together a plan of action for their future.

Why is finding the right career important? It’s critical that students land in the right career because that’s where they’ll likely maximize their potential and be the happiest. In my opinion, it affects the home. If I totally hate my job, a lot of the negativity spills over to my home life. Potentially, I could not treat my spouse right or not have patience or time for my children, which could affect them psychologically.

Workplace visits are a big part of your program. We seek opportunities for students to partner with these companies to provide job shadowing. Not all of them are doing that, but we’re always looking to get them exposure as early as possible.

In addition to workplace visits, you teach everything from dining etiquette to résumé writing. Why? All of these things enhance what skills these students already have to land a career. There are so many rules out there for landing in the right career field. It’s important for us to make sure our students become aware of what these rules are, so that they can go on the right path.

What’s an example? Our students learn that interviewers actually form an impression of you when you come into the room. You spend the remainder of the interview unknowingly convincing the interviewer whether you deserve the job.

How does growing up in the inner city affect the teens you work with? There seems to be a sense of hopelessness. They’re not really motivated to do anything because they don’t know any opportunities are out there.

What do inner-city kids need from mentors? Sympathy is not enough. You have to be able to empathize with these students, and you have to spend time with them. They have to know that you totally understand what they’re going through. Otherwise, they don’t feel like you can relate. And if they think you can’t relate, they won’t allow you in.

What’s been your biggest challenge in running the post? Maintaining participation and focus. What I’m finding with students is they become bored fairly easily. We have to make sure we don’t land in a comfort zone where we’re doing the same thing repeatedly. We kind of mix it up and keep them off guard.

I understand that your wife, Yolanda, is one of your leaders. She helps out wherever needed. It’s a coed program, so she’s totally needed to provide some guidance to young women. We’re all just coaches. We’re a team, and our mission is to serve these young people and help them become more proactive about their futures.

Any last thoughts? It’s an honor to serve in this program. If we can mentor our children, it makes America stronger in the long run.

FactSheet: Lester McKinzy

Years as a Scout Volunteer: 2

Current City: Kansas City, Mo.

Current Position: Advisor, Explorer Post 2967

Day Job: Quality Manager, JE Dunn Construction

Proudest Moment in Scouting: Learning about a post member’s improved academic performance after just six months in the post. “The parents told me the student’s grades had really improved, and the student was doing well in school.”


1 Comment

  1. Please forward this email on to Lester McKinzy (the man in the article),
    Dear Lester,
    I am also from Kansas City and would be happy to come meet and share with your Explorer Post 2967 about careers in aviation. I currently teach Aviation Maintenance Management for Kansas State University at our Salina campus where we have several neat aviation and engineering technology programs of study; these programs lead to many special career fields. Plus, I understand BSA; I serve as Lindsborg Troop 120 Scoutmaster.
    Call or email me to coordinate a visit.
    Andrew Smith
    email – atsmith@ksu.edu office phone (785) 826-2682 cell phone (785) 212-0437

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