Dominique grew up in the South Bronx’s Morrisania neighborhood and by high school, knew most of her classmates. One might find her situation attractive, but she remembers it quite differently:
“My school was so close to home that I knew everyone, but found myself involved in problems with other people. I was losing focus and ready to give up,” Dominique recalls her final days at her local high school before transferring to East Side House’s Smith Young Adult Borough Center (YABC) program.
Dominique admits that she never liked school much, but saw it as her “only way out.” Fights with other students and behavioral issues lead to multiple suspensions. “I needed a new environment with new faces,” she reflected.
Luckily for her, school staff — whom she affectionately refers to as “my supporters” — recognized that she wasn’t living up to her potential and recommended that she look into Smith YABC, a school for under-credited students who’d encountered barriers at their home high schools. “I was a little skeptical at first, but I knew that I could do this” she admits, though equally anxious to move onto the next phase in her secondary education.
What she found was a program full of adults who encouraged her and students who wanted to achieve. Still, she approached the new situation with skepticism, keeping up a hard front which she refers to as her “game face,” and cursing a lot.
“When Dominique first came to us, she came off as a bit angry and uncouth,” a Smith College Advisor shared.” But digging beneath the surface I was able to find the source of that anger. She was taking care of a disabled mother at home, had a sister whom she wasn’t particularly close to nor felt she could depend on, and felt alone. “Once she began drifting in school, her family kind of outcasted her…and that bothered her a lot.”
Her Advisor worked patiently with Dominique. It was when he was gauging her interest in applying for a a internship when he began to see a change in her: “I asked Domo — her nickname — if she’d be interested in getting into a paid internship through our Learning to Work (LTW) program. I could see her enthusiasm.”
Dominique remembers that initially, she didn’t really like LTW because she felt unprepared: “I’d never been on an interview before. I had dreams about working in childcare but I…didn’t really know how to go about doing it.”
Dominique says that a Smith YABC staff member practiced interviewing with her so that she’d be prepared. Her confidence grew and she soon landed an internship at the Mental Health Association of NYC. There, her daily tasks varied, ranging from assisting clients to making home visits and even watching clients’ children while they attended appointments. She says that’s when she began to see the seeds of a career— not just a job.
After 8 months in Smith YABC, Dominique earned her high school diploma. But there was an added bonus to sweeten the deal: her supervisors at her internship were so impressed by her work ethic and professionalism that upon graduating, they offered her a permanent job at the organization.
Today, Dominique is working full time as Childcare Assistant. Besides giving her the work experience she needed to land her first job, she realized that Smith YABC helped shape her and pushed her into a new direction she hadn’t expected. She realized that she wanted to pursue a college degree in Early Childhood Education.
With the assistance of her Advisor, she has applied—and was accepted into—college. Come January, she will begin classes as a freshman while continuing to work. She added that after she receives her degree, she’d love to open her own daycare center, continuing in the field that she started with as an intern.
“The staff at Smith YABC have always showed me loyalty and helped me get to where I am now. If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know where I would be.”