Let's applaud young people who are working for a better life

By: Carli Cichocki, Guest Columnist

Source: Cleveland.Com

For many people, the New Year signals a fresh start, an opportunity to begin anew — only this time, more deliberately, more wisely.

Shanice is 23 years old. She is shy and doesn’t like talking about herself, but if you press her, she’ll say she's nice and caring, a little bit quiet. She loves people and animals. She is working toward her GED. She has a part-time job.

She’ll tell you she has a responsibility to be a good mom, to show her daughter education is important. She says this because she wishes she took her own education more seriously.

She is unnecessarily hard on herself.

And many people want to see her succeed.

Shanice wakes up at 7 A.M. Throughout the day, she takes the 9; the 51; the Redline; the E-Line; the HealthLine and the 48 from the East Side to the West Side and back again.

She travels to Seeds of Literacy, where she studies for her upcoming GED Social Studies test; and the Ohio Means Jobs Young Adult Resource Center, where she checks in with Stephanie, her Towards Employment case manager, before spending another two hours with Juli, her other GED tutor, who works for Youth Opportunities Unlimited.

Juli and Shanice discuss vocabulary words within the preamble to the U.S. Constitution. They talk about “ensuring domestic Tranquility,” “promoting general Welfare.”

Shanice shares she thought “domestic” meant fighting. Juli nods. It makes sense. “Domestic” is sometimes paired with “violence.”  “Welfare” also holds a different meaning than the one Juli explains.

When they finish, Shanice buses to her dishwasher job at the Cleveland Skating Club. If she gets cut by 9 P.M., she’s home early to be mom.

This is all day, most days for a new beginning— for herself, for her daughter.

Shanice knows how important that is. Raised by a loving mother — her dad died when she was 12 — she struggled in school, was bullied, and, in the spring of her senior year, became pregnant.

On her would-be graduation day, she watched her classmates on a television screen walk across stage and receive their diplomas. She didn’t have enough credits for a diploma. She hadn’t passed her Ohio Graduation Tests. She felt scared and lost.

It seemed school wasn’t going to work, but she knew could be a good mom. She loved her daughter. Her mom loved her. They would make it through life together.

Except she needed to earn money to be the mom, the provider she wanted to be.

She found a job at a fast-food restaurant. It didn’t pay enough.

One day, Shanice saw an ad on Facebook for the Ohio Means Jobs Young Adult Resource Center (YRC), a place where young adults up to age 24 can go for help getting work experience and support navigating their life’s challenges.

There, she participated in a job-readiness workshop. She learned customer-service skills and secured a work experience at a salon but lacked the confidence to become a full-time front desk employee. Disappointed but not defeated, with her case manager and tutors by her side, she now prepares to pass her remaining GED tests, so she can enroll at Cuyahoga Community College.

She still dreams of doing work with animals. She still might work in customer service. She imagines possibilities.

Shanice’s story is one of strength and perseverance, and it’s her own, but let us not forget many young people in Cleveland face barriers and demonstrate these same qualities.

Let’s recognize how much work goes into new beginnings — especially for some of our region’s young adults. Let’s appreciate their courage and dedication. Let’s do what we can to support them in their brave endeavors.

A fresh start just might be what a young person needs to soar.


Carli Cichocki is a Communications & Multimedia Specialist at Youth Opportunities Unlimited. The Ohio Means Jobs Young Adult Resource Center, located at 1910 Carnegie Avenue, is available for all young people who wish to create a new beginning. 

Carli Cichocki