More Than What’s On Paper: Lifting As You Climb

Kelly reynolds, CEO of Kelly’s connectables

For a long time, my career felt like I was stuck in a maze, with no exit route. I had the desire to learn and grow, but the resources to do so seemed far beyond my reach.

I worked in retail for five years, making $8/hour. I wanted to increase my chances of having a better future, so I enrolled in some college courses. I was studying at Essex County College as a Biology/Pre Med major with goals of becoming an anesthesiologist. However, my days as a college student were short-lived because I could not obtain the financial support I needed to stay enrolled. After two semesters, I was forced to withdraw. This was devastating.

I always wanted to be more than what was around me. Young people are encouraged to bridge the gap through education, but education was out of my reach. I stayed in retail, but I started to feel economically suffocated. My mother had passed away, I was no longer living under my father’s roof, and opportunities were limited.

Around that same time, I learned that I was pregnant and subsequently facing homelessness, but I refused to let these challenges suppress my desires to advance my professional growth. Growing up in a community with historically limited resources and opportunities, you can sometimes get the feeling that your life journey is predetermined. However, I refused to accept this notion and desired more for myself and my unborn child. Even while pregnant and living in a maternity home, I knew I was capable of excelling beyond my current situation.

Temporary and gig positions provided me with some income flow, but I needed stability. I knew I had to secure some form of post-secondary education if I wanted a find a steady job that offered opportunities for advancement. I had been researching different trade programs in my area when my prenatal doctor told me about Year Up. I applied and was accepted into the program. I finally started to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

During my time at Year Up, I was surrounded by determined and supportive peers and staff. I was provided with emotional, mental, and academic support to keep me going throughout the program. Becoming a new mother while in the program presented a new set of challenges, with childcare being the biggest. Thankfully, I had built a network that included my Year Up Staff advisor and peers who encouraged me and lent a hand when needed. There were times when I had childcare emergencies and we all would collectively take turns watching my daughter so that I could get the most out of my Year Up opportunity. I was part of a community of young professionals who were all aiming for success, lifting each other up as we climbed.

I successfully passed my courses, displayed a full understanding of the Project Management methodologies, and strengthened my communication and presentation skills to earn an internship at J.P. Morgan Chase (JPMC). I worked closely with the CIO to map monthly headcounts within the company, create presentations for firm-wide use, and assisted with weekly meetings. Two days before my internship ended, my manager, also a Year Up graduate, offered me a position as a Project and Business Management Consultant. This was an unexpected shift my trajectory and I felt like my hard work, skills, and drive was finally being recognized. I did not hesitate in accepting the role.

It has been 4 years since I graduated Year Up’s program and accepted a position at JPMC. I am now a full-time Infrastructure Support Analyst for JPMC’s Cloud Services team and I am currently training to become a Project Manager. I am also actively involved in shaping the company’s culture, having established the “Buddy System” which matches Year Up alumni mentors at JPMC with incoming Year Up interns.

I am also an aspiring inventor. Inspired by my own challenges as a working parent, I have designed a product that will help other working parents and or caregivers maximize their time with their children during everyday commutes. One of the biggest challenges many parents face is striking a balance in their work and personal lives. I am designing Kelly’s Connectable to give busy professionals the power to build or maintain strong connections with their loved ones while keeping up with work demands. I have auditioned for Shark Tank using a prototype that is pending patent. In the meantime, I am working to bring my idea to production.

A lot has changed since I started Year Up but the one thing that has not changed is my determination to create the best life I can, for myself and for my daughters. Since my days in retail, I have experienced significant career success. And now, I feel a strong duty to advocate, support, and lead the way for others who, like me, face huge challenges in the pursuit of a career and financial stability but refuse to let them get in the way of their success.

To learn more about Kelly’s entrepreneurial ventures, visit