Staff spotlight: “The Fresh Prince of New Orleans”


Now this is a story, all about how, a life got flipped, turned upside down…

Prince Holmes was meant to be a college student, living away from home in the dorms.  To borrow one more line from his favorite TV show theme song, “chillin’ out, maxin’, relaxin’ all cool.”

Sometimes though, destiny dictates different.   While Prince is indeed a cool college student, there’s no maxin’ and relaxin’ in some far flung dorm for the Algiers native these days.  As Assistant Construction Manager at Youth Rebuilding New Orleans, it’s just a lot of juggling job and school.  Fortunately, YRNO’s REbuild youth employment program eases the strain as much as possible, allowing him to work around his class schedule.

“That’s a big plus with this organization,” Prince admits.  “It helps out a lot—steady income, while getting an education.  I don’t know too many jobs that provide that.”

His previous employer, which he jokingly refers to as “Burger Prince,” did not.  Working there approximately 25 hours per week the summer after graduating high school, his hours were significantly reduced when he began attending Delgado Community College in the fall.  Prince believed he could have maintained his work load, but as he puts it, “They felt like, ‘oh, he’s not dependable so I’m not gonna put him on the time sheet for so many hours.’”

Soon after, Prince was out of a job altogether, but he did have an ace up his sleeve.  A few months earlier, he had gone through the City of New Orleans JOB1 training program at YRNO.  He called Executive Director Will Stoudt and had a new gig in construction within a week, with a nice raise to boot.

So long, Burger Prince.  Hello, opportunity.

Now more than three years later, Prince is Delgado graduate with a degree in criminal justice.  He’s continuing his studies at SUNO and proudly reports he has two A’s and B this semester, although he’s “struggling a little bit” with a C in statistics.  No less impressively, he’s been promoted multiple times at YRNO and is incredibly popular amongst the thousands of volunteers he’s supervised during his tenure, burning up the organization’s Facebook page every time something is posted about him.

What if YRNO’s REbuild program had not been there for Prince?

While no one knows the definitive answer to that, anyone can hazard a guess.  Growing up in a city historically known to be poor at educating its youth, Prince did stand out, but opportunities were limited and obstacles plentiful.  Hurricane Katrina was a big hurdle for him.  Displaced for a month to Baton Rouge and Dallas, he came back to a school system that was completely changed, and the magnet school he had passed a test to get into was no longer an option.  “All my work and the test that I took was down the drain,” he laments.  In 7th grade at the time, he wished he could have stayed at the school he briefly attended in Dallas.

“They served hot pockets for lunch,” he recalls with a grin.  “We didn’t get hot pockets for lunch in New Orleans.  And all the girls loved us.  I didn’t want to move back to New Orleans.”

A couple of years later, Prince did return to the school he had gotten into—Edna Karr—now transformed into one of the city’s many charter high schools rather than a magnet school serving both junior and senior high students.  To this day, he often boasts of his alma mater to many of the volunteer groups he works with at YRNO, so hindsight being 20/20, coming back home obviously wasn’t all bad, hot pockets or not.

But it wasn’t all good, either.  His family situation was another educational hurdle.  His parents got a divorce when he was in high school, and his father was laid off from his job in the shipyards and had to spend most of his time in Mississippi, where all the work had gone.  A stable home life turned into one where Prince was forced into a much larger responsibility to look after his two younger brothers, working and going to school simultaneously.  “That’s why I didn’t go out of town for school,” he says.  “A lot of people don’t know that.  I had a big burden at a young age.

“I wanted to at least have some type of college experience where I could have my own apartment or dorm.”

Hopefully, staying home and taking advantage of YRNO’s REbuild program works out in the end, as Prince’s studies here in New Orleans could help alleviate another one of the city’s historic problems—crime.  Since boyhood, he’s wanted to be a detective, hence the interest in criminal justice.  “It might sound childish, but all the TV shows when I was growing up, they used to always solve the case,” he says.  “That kind of made me look in depth into it, doing my research.  I think it’s pretty interesting.  It kind of ties in with psychology and how the human mind works.  That’s why people do certain things.”

Despite his continued attraction to police work, Prince doesn’t want a self-described “childish mindset” to decide his future, so he’s taking his time making a final decision about joining the New Orleans Police Department, even as he’s recruited to do just that on a regular basis.  He did an internship with the NOPD last summer, which he says opened his eyes.

“I know it’s time consuming,” he says.  “My time during the internship, I learned a lot.  I see that you’ve got to have a passion for that job.  It’s not just like a 9 to 5 job.  A lot of people on the police force treat it as a 9 to 5.  And I feel like one person can’t really change everything that’s going on in the city.

“I also learned that when the police actually start that job, they have the passion, but just being in the system, it deteriorates over time because we don’t know what they’re going through.”

If Prince sounds wise beyond his years, he is.  “I grew up with both of my parents, so I always knew better,” he says, noting how many New Orleans youth aren’t so lucky.  Whether he ultimately ends up in detective work or construction or something else, he’ll always be one of YRNO’s REbuild success stories.