Jessica Chambliss, who works with the School-to-Career Partnership program in New York City, remembers clearly the day Zales Jewelry hired five young people from the program in a single day. “They loved our kids’ energy, their enthusiasm to work, their clothing.” Young people come in one day in “big baggy jeans and boots and we send them to Career Gear or Dress for Success and they come back looking as if they walked off a fashion runway,” says Chambliss.
Career Gear and Dress for Success are two of many organizations involved in the School-to-Career Partnership, a program spearheaded by UPS and the Casey Foundation in Baltimore that has since spread to New York City, Oakland, San Diego, San Antonio, Hartford, Providence, and Portland, Maine.
The program links UPS and other large private-sector employers with community organizations and human services agencies that form partnerships to help prepare young people for independence as they age out of foster care. Each young person has a career coach to assist with work and personal issues and help him or her make long-term employment plans. In 2003, more than 340 young people across the eight sites were placed in jobs earning average hourly wages of $7.92.
Chambliss is the School-to-Career coordinator for the New York Association for New Americans, the New York City grantee for the School-to-Career Partnership program. Originally created after World War II to help Holocaust survivors, the organization, which provides a wide range of social and workforce services, has broadened its mission to include general immigrant and disadvantaged populations. Recently, it expanded its employment assistance and job readiness training to serve at-risk youth.
Sabrina Gaffney is one of more than 100 young people being served by the program. At 19, she faces one of the toughest of challenges: a criminal record. “I know it was a mistake...I did my time and I haven’t been in trouble for two years and I don’t ever plan to do that again,” she says. Gaffney is extremely motivated because of her past troubles, notes her job readiness trainer, Deborah Brooks. “She saw the option of staying in the hole and wanted to pull herself out.”
Gaffney had been looking for a job without success for two years before she was directed to the School-to-Career Partnership. “Sometimes I wouldn’t look because I knew I wouldn’t be hired.” Now, she believes, “I can do this no matter how long it takes. People are behind me. Whenever I have an interview and don’t get hired, I call Deborah and she says ‘Don’t worry about it. We’ll get there.’ ”
“I’m there as long as she needs me. Absolutely,” says Brooks. Gaffney’s criminal record makes her ineligible for many federal benefits, including some housing options. “I have to work harder than most people. It’s just me and my daughter.” She recently gave up an apartment she was sharing with a roommate so she could move back into a foster home and live with her 4-year-old daughter, who is a big source of inspiration. “I need to be out looking for a job every day so she doesn’t see me sitting at home all day doing nothing.”
Gaffney is intent on teaching her daughter the importance of patience. “I didn’t have patience. When I was 16, I wanted an apartment and I was trying to make money the wrong way. Now I know I should have waited.”
She’s especially appreciative of Brooks, who gives her the freedom to speak openly and an awareness that she can have goals and there are options.“That helps give me confidence...I know now that if you do your part, everything will fall into place.”