Making Up for Lost Time

“There is no substitute for hard work” —Thomas Edison

Jane Doolan

Remember your first day on the job? Likely you experienced this milestone in your teen years, maybe as a young adult. Likely you started with an entry level job: fast food, service sector, retail. We all started somewhere. Chances are you received some coaching/direction from the adult caregivers in your life: “Be on time.” “Stay busy.” “If you have nothing to do, find something to do.” “Don’t give your boss attitude.” “The customer is always right.” “Smile”, etc.

We might take for granted the guidance we received from our families and teachers back then. But I am here to tell you that not everyone has the good fortune of learning life’s lessons in a nurturing environment, or perhaps learning them at all.

For our youth, who have aged out of foster care, nurturing advice was not to be expected or counted on. Each day was perhaps another day of unforeseen let-downs, instability in residence, caregiver transitioning, all in all reacting from survival mode. Adopting the role of victim and accepting the status quo was clearly the norm. The question lies then, how to shift from a mindset of reactivity to one of pro-activity? How to go from accepting the system’s handouts (many systems, actually) to finally realizing that there’s a way out. How to revitalize those dreams that after years of let-downs and disappointment have seemingly perished for good.

It is the role of our Independent Living staff to make up for lost time, quite frankly. Our staff are prepared to take the youths we serve to the next level. Unfortunately, we face stiff competition against “the code on the street” (steal, sell drugs, hustle for money), as well as peer and family pressure to “get rich quick.” Somehow our encouragement to apply for that entry level job at Subway, to build that resume and “start somewhere” pales financially in comparison to hustling on the street for easy money.

But you know, eventually they do get it. They apply at Subway, McDonald’s, Walmart, and may just get called for an interview. Then we hear, “What should I wear?” “Is my resume updated?” “What kind of questions are they going to ask?” We take them on the journey of not only landing a job, but then keeping the job. It’s the process of educating our youth about “soft skills.” Promptness, respect, conflict resolution, good service, again, all of those tips that we learned along the way.

“There is no substitute for hard work” — this is true. Just ask Eric, who applied at Target three times before getting hired. Now, with money in his pocket, he walks with his head held high, a swagger in his step, and a sense of freedom he never had before. He smiles easily knowing he can pay his rent, on his OWN apartment. No longer dependent upon the “government phone,” he can pay his own bill on that same smart phone that the guys all brag about. He has started a savings account, albeit meager, to save for a car. Who knows where the road will take him after that.

So why is having a job and a career important? Well, here’s our top five list:

Number 1: Here at “The Youthhood,” we say, “A good day is a pay day.” In other words, if you have a job or a career, you can earn money. If you can earn money, you can buy things you need, pay your bills, have a place to live and basically do things you want to do. Without money, you can’t do much!

Number 2: Having a job or career makes you feel good. Yeah, you heard us right. Knowing you can do something well and earn money for your skills is a great feeling.

Number 3: When you work, you contribute to the community. You help make the economy and your community stronger. You are being a productive citizen (which communities like!) and a valued community member.

Number 4: When you work, you develop new skills, learn new things, and create a record of employment. Then when you want to get a new or a better job, or maybe even go to college, your experiences can help you to do that.

Number 5: Last but not least, when you have a job or a career, you have self-respect, dignity and self-worth. You are being responsible and making sure that you can take care of yourself. You are creating a solid foundation that you can build on to have a successful future.

Your first job may not be the type of job you have want forever, but it’s a job that will give you skills you can use for a career that will last long after high school. It’s true for everyone, and especially our youth!

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