Cali Green Turf Inspires at South Park Career Day
Taking Time to Connect with Kids
True passion at work is never about the money. It’s not about the title or the corner office or material success. While money and status can make life more comfortable, when all is said and done, true passion is always about the heart.
That was the message that Cali Green Life Founder and CEO Edi Santos wanted to impart to South Park Elementary School children at a recent Career Day. The school in South Central Los Angeles, just blocks away from where Edi grew up, makes an annual event out of inviting success stories into the classroom.
Firefighters, police officers, entrepreneurs, bankers, lawyers—men and women of all different backgrounds and career paths—encourage children to stay in school and grow up to be successful. It’s an important message in a neighborhood where 69.4% of adults have never finished high school.
But it’s the word “successful” that Edi encouraged kids to really think about.
During South Park Principal Dennis Schaffer’s morning welcome, he told Career Day guests that many of the kids were prepared to ask questions. He also said that the most common question would likely be, “How much do you make?” That, he said, was their idea of success.
It’s a normal question and understandable concept. Money matters, especially to kids in low income households who watch their parents work multiple jobs to barely scrape by. Money offers a way out and a sense of security and stability. But it’s not the only thing, and that’s what Edi wanted to share with the children.
They would need to stay in school, get an education, eventually find work and to pay the bills. But making money to pay bills, he told them, would not be enough to drive them to succeed in the long term.
Real motivation would have to come from within, from a very human place.
“I believe that every person wants to help,” he shared with third graders in a bilingual classroom setting. “When you help a woman who has fallen, or a dog that has been hit by a car, or help a friend, or share an ice cream, it is an expression of love. You care about something. When you (help), you get a lot back in return.”
As he shared his own story—growing up with a single mom who got pregnant when she was only 15, living on food stamps and welfare and struggling as a family to make ends meet, then joining the Marine Corps fresh out of high school with a deep desire to serve others and ultimately pursuing a Bachelor’s degree and an MBA—he forged sparks of understanding and connection with the students and their teachers.
If he could rise up from poverty, so could they. If he could build a life of passion and opportunity, a life of giving back to others, so could they. If he could feel fulfilled and motivated each and every day, so could they.
Edi talked about lifelong learning and the importance of an education, the “key” to unlock the doors to a better future. But he also talked about how he grew even in adulthood, evolving in his understanding of how important it is to give back to others and to make the world a better place. He talked about saying goodbye to a financially stable banking career to open Cali Green Life, starting with Cali Green Turf to help others save water during the drought, and ultimately expanding to a four-company solution with eco-friendly paint, solar and water filtration systems.
Then he asked the children what they wanted to be when they grow up and why.
“A chef to make people smile with the good food I make.”
“A police officer to protect people.”
“An actress to tell stories.”
“A teacher to help kids like me learn.”
“A veterinarian to save sick or hurt animals.”
“A singer to give people hope.”
In each of the four classes where Edi spoke, the children understood the underlying message. Not one kid answered, “I want to be such-and-such to get rich.”
As they shared with one another, he encouraged them as they grow older to hold onto those dreams and remember the reasons behind them. He also encouraged them to hold one another accountable, to remind their friends about what they had shared and help one another succeed.
Make sure you can earn a living, he told them. Find out what you have to study to get to where you have to be. Work hard and always do your best. Find your talent. But never, ever lose sight of the bigger picture driving you forward. Because the difference between a job and a career—the difference between making a living and making a life—is the will to tap into what really matters, and make it count.