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Youth Find Independence with Opportunity NOW: Vendalyn's Story

September 5, 2017

The school bell rang and Vendalyn Tolbert exited the building of Cane Ridge High School. Summer break was finally here and she was prepared to spend the next few months earning a paycheck and not in the house on the couch.

Last year, Vendalyn’s family moved and what she had known for most of her life changed overnight. Her friends would no longer be down the street, rather, miles away. Now, she would have to get out of her comfort zone and develop new relationships with other students, teachers, and people in the community. So, she decided to apply for a position at a local grocery store, but fell short when they asked if she had previous work experience. “My lack of work experience was the only reason I didn’t get hired,” said Vendalyn. Vendalyn holds a white sign with red lettering that says vote here

This is the case for many youth today. Often they apply for summer positions, but fail to get hired because they lack previous experience. After not getting hired for a position last year, Vendalyn lost hope in finding a job this summer. However, Vendalyn now has a summer job as an intern at the Davidson County Election Commission through Opportunity NOW. “I was so excited, because I was for sure thinking I wasn’t going to get anything.” Opportunity NOW has created a chance for youth across Nashville, like Vendalyn, to get their first job.

The investment of our community partners has had a major impact on the program and youth like Tolbert. Employers have posted over 10,000 positions on the Opportunity NOW job portal, offering youth a variety of employment options that may interest them. In return, employers create a diverse workplace while giving youth a chance to cultivate the soft skills they are looking for in a future workforce. In addition, Opportunity NOW programs provide youth with paid vocational experience. 

Vendalyn, oldest of four, finds herself serving as a role model for her siblings.  This summer she looks forward to further developing her leadership skills by learning how to better communicate with others. “I am a very quiet person, but one thing I am learning is how to communicate with a team. Every day I have to communicate with a team member to get a task completed.”

Vendalyn is graduating from Cane Ridge in 2018 and has plans to attend college. Realizing her goals, she understands the significance of her first job. She comes to work excited for her day and ready to work hard to support her team. She looks forward to learning as much as she can to be able to gain more of her independence this summer. Thanks to Opportunity NOW, Vendalyn and youth alike have the opportunity to develop the skills necessary to prepare for life in and outside of school. 

“I get to have ownership over something at the end of the summer; something I WORKED HARD for and EARNED”  - Vendalyn Tolbert 

Youth across the city are met with the same difficulties as Vendalyn. They simply want a chance to be employed and proud of what they have accomplished. Through Opportunity NOW, youth have that chance and are ready to rise to the occasion.