Tuesday Nov 7th, 2017
What motivated me was the demeanor and persona of some of the staff at HEBCAC [Historic East Baltimore Community Action Coalition]. I was impressed with how they portrayed themselves inside and outside of the workplace,” Kendra Watkins said.
Kendra graduated from Milford Mill High School in 2009 and enrolled at Stevenson University. “I was there for a year and now I have a BIG loan. I learned my lesson and transferred to Baltimore City Community College,” Kendra shared.
While trying to keep up with school and a part-time job, Kendra was also about to age out of foster care. She had lived at the Board of Child Care for 10 years and moved into an Independent Living program that provides support services to youth ages 14 to 21, designed to transition youth from foster care to self-sufficiency. Between school loans and apartment needs, Kendra was struggling to make ends meet. She started to fail her classes and after one semester at BCCC, she just stopped going. “There was a lot that I didn’t know, so it was easy to fall behind,” Kendra said.
“I tried renting a house with a roommate and that went sour,” Kendra said. For the next two years, Kendra was homeless. She did some couch-surfing and sometimes just stayed outside. In 2011 Kendra started to attend activities at the Eastside Youth Opportunity (YO) center managed by Historical East Baltimore Community Action Coalition (HEBCAC) and funded through the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development. She spent a lot of time there but was reluctant to tell them that her housing situation was unstable.
YO provides educational support, job readiness training and employment opportunities to city residents between the ages of 18 and 24. “I got help with job searches, learned life skills, and practiced etiquette and conflict resolution. I was in and out of the center all the way through 2015,” Kendra said. “My advocate was a mentor to me and she made all the difference in getting me to move ahead with my life.”
Kendra has always managed to keep a job. She lives by the rule that you are not allowed to quit a job until you have another one. She has been employed through YouthWorks, Baltimore City’s summer jobs program, and in the warehouse at Webb Mason, a local marketing firm. Kendra also worked at a help desk for a while and with BGE as a flagger for several months. In 2016 Kendra joined AmeriCorps and was placed at HEBCAC as a Workforce Development Outreach Specialist for 10 months. “I organized the first resource fair where we had 32 vendors,” Kendra remembered proudly.
Outcomes & Benefits
This fall Kendra was accepted into the Public Allies AmeriCorps program and is working with the Baltimore City Health Department (BCHD). “I am in the community, working with residents, the Governor and city officials and I love the opportunity to be of service. I am working on the Billion Steps Challenge that the Mayor and BCHD have initiated and I am learning so much about what people really want in this city,” Kendra shared enthusiastically. “I’ve also enrolled in college and am almost finished my first semester [at BCCC].”
“My advice to others who may be struggling is this – regardless of how hard you think it is, take the time to listen. Don’t be so quick with a rebuttal. Listen,” Kendra stated. “You have to surround yourself with positive people, people who are going somewhere. If you do, then your outcomes will be like theirs.”