Promise Zone YES! The Carmen Vasquez Story
By Carmen Vasquez (Participant) and Lakeshia Torres (BHCA OSY Coordinator)
I was born at St. Francis Hospital and raised in the North End of Hartford, CT. Growing up, things weren’t much different than they are right now and the streets were just as dangerous. We shared a yard with other units on one of the busiest streets in Hartford. I graduated from the Sports and Medical Science Academy where I met some of my greatest friends, but I didn’t prioritize my grades enough.
When I was 21 years old, I became pregnant with my daughter, Gabriella. I recognized my responsibility to provide a better life for her. As a young mother, I was dedicated to ensuring that my daughter would see her mother overcome obstacles to provide for her. I was faced with financial challenges and daycare struggles. Gabriella inspired me to buckle down and tackle those problems. She is the reason why I am here, and I credit her for the woman that I am today.
In August of 2016, a friend told me about this great opportunity at the Promise Zone Program. I connected with the youth around me right after I enrolled with my youth navigator, Ms. Lakeshia Torres. I attended workshops that went through different values, career readiness activities, and customer service training. It was the first time I was exposed to these skills. I told Ms. Torres that I had limited work experience to put on my resume. She told me that there’s always an opportunity to make something out of nothing. She helped me create my resume and my cover letter and allowed me to tell her what career path I was interested in. I told her that I wanted to do secretarial work and she connected with a receptionist position at Blue Hills Civic Association (BHCA) working with the wonderful staff.
I expanded my skill set to include phone skills, filing and typing, and customer service. Through the confidence of Mr. Lee Hunt, my role grew to include administrative support for projects in collaboration with non-profit groups. I truly appreciate the guidance, supervision, and support that I received from the staff at Blue Hills Civic Association.
After completing my service learning tiers, I was extended an opportunity to intern at The City of Hartford: Licenses and Inspections Division. I was very grateful to Rich Davis at Capital Workforce Partners for connecting me with such a great opportunity. I greeted clients, routed phone calls and helped process applications at the Licenses and Inspections Division. They were so impressed with my work ethic that they asked Ms. Torres to extend my hours. Unfortunately, budget restrictions hindered the request. Shortly after that conversation, my supervisors informed me that they were working on setting up an interview with a director. I nervously called Ms. Torres and told her about an interview for the open position at the City of Hartford Development Services. She was so proud and coached me through the interview process.
I felt so much pride after my interview. I was offered the job thereafter and it was great to know that my hard work paid off.
I am currently the Executive Assistant to the Director of Development Services at the City of Hartford. I split my responsibilities between the main desk duties and handling the day-to-day calendar for the Director. I love my job and I have met amazing people that have guided me to this role.
The Promise Zone YES! Program has been an essential part of my life. Honestly, if it was not for the connection and guidance that I have received from Lakeshia Torres and others of Blue Hills Civic Association, I don’t know if I would have been able to tell you the same story. I am so happy for a program like this. I really hope this program is successful in being a resource to the youth for many years to come.
Promise Zone YES! Career Pathways for Youth is 100% funded by a $1,986,373.00 grant from the U.S. Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration.
Awarded in 2016, the program provides high school seniors (ISY), and out-of-school youth ages 18-24 (OSY), with an opportunity to gain valuable experiences through internships, employment, college coaching, career development, leadership training, and community service. The goals of the program are to ensure that youth: a) complete an internship; b) obtain employment; c) achieve post-secondary education (through college, trade school); and, d) receive a national certification. All participants complete 280 hours in a 4-tiered system executed by Blue Hills Civic Association.