'I’m going after everything I can, the most I can.'
Dashawn Hightower was only 3 years old when doctors discovered he had a tumor wrapped around his kidney.
He went through two years of intensive treatments that included having a needle stuck under his chest to make sure his kidney was still working.
Eventually, he made it out the other side cancer free but sans one kidney.
"Every day, I just think I’m lucky to be here," Dashawn says.
Dashawn Hightower. All photos via Dashawn Hightower, used with permission.
However, the experience wasn't only hard on him — his mother and two younger sisters were seriously affected as well.
Dashawn's mother became extremely overprotective of him, even after he was declared healthy again.
"She didn’t want me to do anything," Dashawn recalls. "No sports. No after school activities."
His mother raised him and his sisters on her own, and it was always difficult to make ends meet. So when Dashawn got into his teens, he decided to find a way to lift some of the burden off of her, even if it meant worrying her a little bit in the beginning.
It began with him attending a 6 a.m. meeting at his school about a student-focused career-building program.
When he reached high school, he joined This Way Ahead — an internship program designed to help teens get a leg up on their future.
An intern working at Old Navy.
The internship program is one of the efforts under Old Navy's cause platform ONward!. The brand is actually expanding the program through a trigger donation this Black Friday. You can buy their cozy socks for $1, and each purchase will result in a $1 donation to Boys & Girls Clubs, up to $1 million. The money will go to creating an employment program for Boys & Girls Club youth, offering them career coaching and a first job at Old Navy stores.
It's all about giving kids the skills they need to succeed in the workplace.
Every day, the program focused on a different job-based subject — what questions to ask at an interview, how to write a great resume, customer conflicts, etc. Slowly but surely, Dashawn felt his confidence building. He knew he could be a great business leader.
"It taught me responsibility," Dashawn says. "I own all my actions."
As a result, Dashawn started taking care of his sisters more. He'd help them with their homework and get ready for school. And soon, he landed his first job.
Dashawn with his mom at his Old Navy job.
"[The program] helped me to have the upper hand when I interviewed for a position at Old Navy," Dashawn recalls.
Not surprisingly, he aced the interview and was brought onboard as a paid intern in 2014. Last year in November, he was hired as a full-time staff employee, and today, he's a business and training operations specialist at Old Navy's Herald Square location in New York City.
He's finally getting to lift some of the financial strain off his mom, and she could not be happier with how far he's come.
She even remembers the first time he bought her a pair of shoes. She had the receipt framed.
Today, Dashawn takes every opportunity that comes his way to make life better because he knows he might not have had a life at all.
Dashawn with interns in the TWA program.
"I could’ve died when I was 3," Dashawn says. "So I’m going after everything I can, the most I can. I’m hungry."
He tries to instill the same go-getter attitude in his associates and the interns he now manages. Many of them come directly from Old Navy's first jobs program, so they're already at the top of their game. But they still come to him sometimes with questions or concerns about their next steps. Since he's been in their shoes, he shares the same advice he's given himself in the past.
"No matter what you do, you always show your best," he says. "And every time you complete a certain chapter, it’s just a chapter. You have the whole book to complete. You have the whole journey to look forward to."