Rebuilding a Career

Supported Work Experience builds confidence — and skills — for job-seekers

Forrest Gump was wrong: Life isn’t like a box of chocolates. It’s more like a tower of Jenga blocks — remove the wrong one, and everything else comes crashing down.

The block that sent Jackie Sexton’s life tumbling was her husband’s job. When he lost it, she recalls, “We were always like, we can handle this. But it just got too hard. I was a stay-at-home mom with a homeschooler, and things got too tight.”

That’s when she paid a visit to the CITC Mat-Su Valley Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) office, where she learned another truism about life: Sometimes when you go looking for one thing, you find something even better.

Getting Uncomfortable

Jackie met with Case Manager Monica Sharp expecting to hear advice about strategies for living on TANF. Instead, she says, “Monica really walked us through what we could do to get out of this hard spot. She identified changes we could make and encouraged me to do the uncomfortable things — like going back to work.”

Jackie quit her job at Walmart to be a stay-at-home when her daughter was born. She’d earned an associates in Human Services at UAA-Mat-Su, but by the time her husband was laid off, she hadn’t worked in seven years. What’s more, while she was comfortable in retail or manufacturing, she’d never worked with people in need.

But that’s exactly what Monica proposed when she suggested Jackie try CITC’s Supported Work Experience (SWE), a program that helps participants with some work experience gain additional skills in a supportive environment, often with a CITC partner.

Before she knew it, Jackie was working the reception desk at CITC’s Mat-Su office.

“It was a confidence-builder,” she describes. SWE “gave me a chance to ease in. It was nice to have people guiding me and showing me how to be comfortable in an office environment.”

From Job to Career

As a Case Support worker, Jackie is now the first face clients see when visiting Knik Tribal Council.

Jackie also stepped out of her comfort zone by sending her homeschooled daughter to daycare.

“Monica challenged me to look at my parenting differently,” she recalls. “What would it look like if I went back to work and my daughter went to daycare? She didn’t push; she encouraged.”

SWE participants meet with case managers like Monica to be challenged in just this way and to get connected to related CITC services, like child care assistance, Life Skills classes, vocational training, and more. Case managers also help participants work on a long-term plan for career success.

For Jackie, that meant transitioning to a new program, once her six-month SWE was over.

“Before my time was even up, there was talk that Knik Tribal Council (KTC) wanted to hire me,” she explains.

It was a convenient step from one job to another: KTC shares a building with the CITC Valley Office and regularly partners with CITC. Jackie transitioned to CITC’s Career Ready program to fill a reception position with KTC before being hired full-time as a Case Support employee. Now, when people come to KTC looking for services, Jackie is the first person they talk to.

Future Plans

Jackie checks in with a coworker at her new full-time job at Knik Tribal Council.

SWE became a building block for Jackie’s future: She’s considering going back to school, and now that her husband is employed again, too, the two of them are making plans to buy a house. She credits all these life-changing events with the support she found at CITC.

“When you see all these little successes, it’s positive reinforcement,” Jackie says. “If you don’t have any experience or you’re coming from a painful place, but you want to change your life, SWE and Career Ready are really valuable.”

Visit the ETSD page for more information on programs like Career Ready and Supported Work Experience.