In 2016, Marcus Coleman was graduating from Syracuse University and setting out to navigate the future. At Syracuse he had been playing football and majoring in finance.
“I was not sure of my role after football,” he said.
He wanted to become a financial advisor. He had plans and dreams, but college was giving him few resources for understanding the steps to reach them. He had come to New York state from Philadelphia, and leaving college for finance set him a new world to navigate.
“I made a goal,” he said, “and I didn’t realize how difficult it was.”
In this time of transition, he met Linda Dulye.
In 2008 she had founded the Dulye Leadership Experience as a mentoring program with Syracuse undergraduates, and as the program grew, its network of young alumni expanded.
In 2017, Dulye and DLE moved to the Berkshires, bringing the relationships and programs she had built across eight years — workshops and conversations, an annual leadership retreat and a growing network that reaches now around the world. She broadened the DLE’s mission to supporting professionals in their 20s to 40s, a multigenerational group with a strong focus on the Berkshires and on learning.
And Coleman has now moved with it. He has recently become a registered client service associate at Raymond James Financial Services in Pittsfield.
“I give support to a financial advisor, with the goal to become one myself,” he said.
He is one of a growing group who have shared in the DLE experience, and now they are growing here. Ivy Rodriguez Campos has come from Springfield to become a financial and administrative coordinator at Williams College. Berkshire native Kalee Carmel has begun a new job and a new career in information technology. And like Coleman they have felt DLE as a powerful and positive force in their lives.
Teaching skills in leadership and business
Dulye founded DLE because she saw new graduates coming into the work place with high technical skills but not ‘soft’ skills — leadership, networking, conversation — all the skills involved in working effectively with people. They were not learning these skills in college, she said. In a world of texting, chatting and IM-ing, they had little chance to learn or practice them.
She designed a curriculum, funded it and fielded it with real business leaders, giving professionals in their 20s to 40s tools to build these skills. And she offers it free.
Since she has moved to the Berkshires full-time, she has focused on the need to attract young professionals and to keep them here.
“We don’t have enough of them,” she said. “They go to Boston, if they stay in the state.”
‘To keep talented young people in the Berkshires, companies need to invest in professional and leadership development opportunities, not only in technical training — and in an environment for learning and growing.’ — Linda Dulye
And in a time of Covid, she sees this need growing daily more vital. The DLE has moved online since March, and its programs have grown five-fold, from 14 in-person events a year to more than 65.
“We have united more than 300 new people from 23 states,” she said. “It’s all from people wanting this connectivity more than ever. People see it, and we feel it.”
They feel drawn to a wecoming and diverse meeting place in the Berkshires. People of all ages who have lost jobs in the pandemic have come to expand their skills and their network.
“We’re struggling here,” Dulye said. “Young people have lost their jobs. Companies want to retain millennial talent, and you have to help them. Businesses are trying to stay afloat. We’re (trying to bridge) a chasm that’s opening here. A year ago, in a strong economy, companies would invest in training — but not now.”
To keep talented young people in the Berkshires, companies need to invest in professional and leadership development opportunities, she said — not only in technical training — and in an environment for creating opportunities for learning and growing. They need to spend time asking questions and listening to new ideas. Young professionals want to make a difference where they work. They want their voice to be heard and respected. If the environment they create does not welcome their team to stretch their minds and use their talents, they will often leave.
“Young professionals want to be heard and to see that they are making a difference,” she said. “It’s hard for a small or mid-sized business to do this by themselves, and we are here to help.”
Young professionals grow roots in the Berkshires
Through DLE, Coleman has built confidence and positions of leadership — he is a member of DLE’s Advisory Board and moderator of weekly programming.
Carmel has achieved a new job and the beginning of a career.
Rodriguez Campos has secured stability for her family. She met Dulye in a year of sadness and low self-esteem, not knowing how to get her energy back. In 2018, Rodriguez Campos had lost her home she said. She had just had her youngest child. She saw Dulye speaking in a mentorship program, offering guidance, and felt in Dulye a confidence she wanted and needed to reclaim for herself.
“My daughter had her first birthday in a hotel room,” Rodriguez Campos said. “She took her first steps in a hotel room.”
She and her family needed a home. Dulye talked with her about the steps she needed to take. Through her, Rodriguez Campos met real estate agent and found a program for first-time homebuyers.
“People often have a goal but not the steps to get to a goal,” she said. “People saying you can do it was motivation.”
She got the financial advice and backing she needed for a mortgage. And she found the house she was looking for, in Adams.
“We moved in August of this year,” she said. “My kids have a place to call theirs.
“Sometimes you need that extra push and people to connect with, that intangible sense of knowing there are people you can rely on. It’s a part of DLE … people who genuinely care and want to help you grow. You’re not alone.”
“Your story is amazing,” Coleman said with warm respect. “First I give credit to you.”
He too has a value for the compassion Linda and the DLE have shown, and Carmel has felt the force of them in her own life.
Experiencing the power of connection
Carmel has always lived in the Berkshires, and she has worked steadily to get to know business professionals and entrepreneurs in the community. She has tried to network through events like 1Berkshire Chamber nights. And she often found herself frustrated.
“It can feel clique-y,” she said, “and it’s hard to have meaningful conversations.”
DLE’s workshops, retreats and conversations have felt more intimate.
“We are all there to meet people and grow relationships,” she said.
In 2019 she came to DLE’s annual conference, and she left with the goals to serve on a board, to go back to school and to have a new career, a career that is not just a job.
A month ago she started a new job as an account manager with CompuWorks. Now she is advancing her education, serving as president of the board of Berkshire Business and Professional Women and working with a company where she hopes to stay longterm.
Through DLE, she has made connections and kept them active.
“If you stop when they’re made, they don’t help you,” she said. “With DLE, speakers are part of the experience. I am still in touch with 90 percent of the speakers from the retreat.”
“Authentic relationships are one of the great things about small towns,” Coleman said, thoughtfully, “the intimate relationships you have with other people. But it can be hard to get into circles when people have known each other since they were younger.
“DLE helps bridge that, and its network spreads beyond the Berkshires. We have a lot of Syracuse alums from different countries and regions, religious and economic backgrounds.”
In the last few months he has talked virtually with DLE alums in California, Haiti, China, Brazil, and met their families too. And he has felt a difference locally as well.
“I’m still new to the Berkshires,” he said, “and DLE has helped make the transition easier.”
Coming from Philadelphia to the Berkshires takes some adjustment. He was born in the city, in a metropolitan area with more than a million people. But the natural beauty here exhilarates him.
“I’d never hiked before,” he said.
He has enjoyed cultural events, Tanglewood, Jacob’s Pillow.
“It’s a culture shock,” he said, “but a great change.”
‘We have had conversations on owning your own voice,’ she said, “on how to make yourself known, how to own your own career.’ — Ivy Campos Rodriguez
Professionally, DLE has helped Coleman to make transitions as well. He has developed skills in the workshops he has taken and led, in the relationships he has forged. He feels their effect, he said, in the way he speaks and holds himself. He has grown confidence and the knowledge to set goals and achieve them.
“Where I grew up, it was common for people to be very direct,” he said.
He has developed skills in writing and conversation, he said, in a more formal language when he finds it useful, and in the daily negotiations that are part of building relationships with a manager, a client or a team.
Rodriguez Campos understands the challenges Coleman has faced in coming from lower socio-economic background into a professional world.
She grew up as one of six children, she said, raised by a single mother in Springfield. In casual conversations she would speak half in English and half in Spanish.
Through DLE she too has found tools and connection.
“We have had conversations on owning your own voice,” she said, “on how to make yourself known, how to own your own career.”
They have shared experiences and advice on hard questions — how to have a hard conversation with a boss or a manager, how to respond to bias in the workplace, how to recognize and change unconscious biases in themselves.
“Linda is giving us a platform,” Rodriguez Campos said. “It’s an inspiring and useful tool, especially in Berkshire County. It is not a big place, and connections are hard if you don’t know the right people. And Linda is one of those people.”
‘We’re not just relying on speakers and mentors. We rely on each other too.’ — Kalee Carmel
“We’re not just relying on speakers and mentors,” Carmel said. “We rely on each other too. I was thinking about a sales job, and I’ve been talking with Marcus to get his ideas about sales, because it’s his world.”
In Covid, Carmel is helping to lead DLE in its transition to a virtual world. Their programming has moved online since March, with a weekly Breakfast Club conversations and Culture Chats. She has become involved with a recruitment and engagement committee to reach out to professionals interested in joining these conversations and a marketing committee to reach out to the local professional and business community.
“DLE is putting everyone on a level playing field,” Rodriguez Campos said. “They bring together different voices, and the diversity is phenomenal. You can be making a six-figure income or none. I can reach out to a CFO and get experience without having to worry. … It doesn’t matter if you’re a CFO or in maintenance. Everyone can learn and bounce ideas off of each other.”
They can talk over difficult, real experiences and questions and try out possible answers among friends, before they stand up in front of a supervisor or a team. They have each other’s backs.
“And I don’t think many people get that in their jobs,” Carmel said.