Bilingual Employment Coach (Left)
Bilingual Employment Coach (Right)
Center for Changing Lives
Tenoch Rodriguez and Rodrigo Perez of Center for Changing Lives (CCL) are working to equip CCL members with the skills and opportunities they need to thrive. Read on to learn how Center for Changing Lives helps each of its members find their voice and poder.
Tell me about yourselves and your roles.
Rodrigo Perez: My name is Rodrigo Perez, and I'm a bilingual employment coach at the Center for Changing Lives. I also run CCL’s Office to Career Training program, which offers Microsoft Word and Excel certification.
Our philosophy is that everybody who walks through our doors is resourceful, creative, and whole. We use the word poder because it has two meanings in Spanish. It means that one is able, and it means power - our work revolves around finding people's poder.
Tenoch Rodriguez: My name is Tenoch Rodriguez. I am also a bilingual employment coach. Much of my work is around managing our IT program, or BLIT [Black and Latinx in Tech]. I help students get their entry level certification, help place them in an internship, and then get them ready to transition smoothly into full-time, permanent employment.
Have you had any mentors throughout your career?
RP: The earliest mentors I can think of are my parents. They’ve always encouraged me to follow something fulfilling and meaningful because they believe that to be a driving force for work. The CCL team has also been a source of wonderful mentorship. In particular, I’ve relied a lot on our team lead, Lili Diaz. She’s been a wonderful mentor that I can always go to whenever I’m dealing with uncertainty.
TR: I’ve really valued the mentorship that came from my college professors. They provided really meaningful career guidance, and they forced me to consider how my studies would connect to my chosen career. I would also say that the CCL team is full of great mentors. My first mentor would be our strategic partnership manager, Julio. He and the rest of the team have helped me understand the nonprofit world and how to grow within my career.
Let's talk a little bit about CCL. What does your work look like?
RP: Our philosophy is that everybody who walks through our doors is resourceful, creative, and whole. We use the word poder because it has two meanings in Spanish. It means that one is able, and it means power - our work revolves around finding people's poder. Through our co-active coaching approach, we help members build their skills not just within employment coaching, but also financial, housing, and small business coaching. We value a holistic approach.
TR: The work we do also aligns with our three values for our theory of change. We value black and brown solidarity, economic vitality, and community well-being. Our work is holistic, it’s comprehensive. If you meet with one coach, you’ve got to meet with the rest because in the long term, we know that if you're seeing all of those coaches, if you're getting all of those services and programs, it's going to improve your life in the long term.
What does your day look like as an employment coach?
RP: One thing that is unique about CCL is that we refer to people not as clients but as members. As employment coaches, we meet and work with our members regularly. I introduce new services; I work on resume and cover letter development. I'm looking for potential jobs, and I run a bridge program, which teaches reading and math. Teaching’s my favorite part of the day.
Wherever an opportunity arises, we try to make a connection. Because of that, we work with employers from a variety of industries.
TR: I run our Black and Latinx in Tech program, or BLIT. To add on to that, I also help our members create career visions. Sometimes people come in with a clear vision of what they want to achieve, but sometimes, we have to start from scratch. We make sure to ask members what their one-year plan is and what their priorities are. At the end of the day, it’s more than just learning about their goals – we want to find every member’s voice and poder.
What qualifies someone to become a member of CCL?
RP: We work with people from all walks of life. We have members who are returning citizens, members experiencing crises, but there are also people who are already employed but just want to do some sort of career development.
What are some of your organization’s upcoming goals?
RP: We're currently in our second year of our five-year strategic plan to activate poder in the Black and Brown community. Some of what that looks like is enhancing our curriculum and honing in on our coaching and training models. This whole summer, for example, we focused on family-centered coaching, which involved weekly workshops and toolkit sessions for our members.
TR: We are also looking at organizational expansion. We hope that with additional funding, we’ll be able to both hire new staff and provide additional layers of support for our members. Our members engage in our programs, but we know that they still have to pay bills and work. We want to help without taking away from their source of income.
What are the kinds of employers that you tend to connect your members with? What is your process?
TR: Wherever an opportunity arises, we try to make a connection. Because of that, we work with employers from a variety of industries. Before sending our member to a new employer, we have our strategic partnerships manager meet with the employers to ensure that the job is a good match for our student. He verifies whether a degree is needed, whether returning citizens are hired, etc. in order to meet the needs of our members.
What kind of timeline should an employer expect when they come to you looking for a member to come work with them?
RP: Our internships are eight weeks, so we always start our conversations with employers by trying to make sure that they have the time.
What are some other employer partners that you work with? What are some employer partners that you're hoping to connect with in the future?
TR: We would like to establish partnerships with nationally recognized companies, like T- Mobile, Amazon, Google, or Walmart. We know that if we pair our members with these companies, the experience is going to expand their employment opportunities for the future.
Do you ever collaborate with other workforce providers?
TR: Yes. Because the guidelines that each organization follows differ, sometimes another organization is better equipped to help a member than we are. For example, we’ve referred our members to other organizations in cases where they’ve needed rental and utility assistance, as opposed to employment development services alone.
That when looking at just the resume and the facts of the application, to remember that there's a person behind that, and that they're more than their past decisions and their current circumstances.
RP: Setting up mutual referral pipelines with other organizations is crucial. Different organizations have different sector focuses, like healthcare, manufacturing, etc. As I said, ours is administrative and IT, so we believe that the more we collaborate, the more connections we have, and the better we can help our members, even if it's not necessarily coming directly from us.
Do you have any success stories you’d like to share?
TR: Yes! There was one student who came to us after immigrating from Germany. Although her prior work experience was in marketing, she saw our IT program as an opportunity that might help her secure work. However, because she was between trying to find employment to catch up on bills and wanting to do the IT program, we ended up finding it best to pause the IT program to look for full-time employment. The student worried that her job experience wouldn't transfer over to the United States, but it eventually did. We were able to pair her with a local nonprofit, the Greenwood Project, where she was promoted within a month of starting.
Another student from our IT program finished one or two IT courses when she realized that IT wasn't really for her. We both agreed that it would be good for her to go out and network to see what field would best suit her. Through her resourcefulness and networking skills, she came across someone that encouraged her to work in the social service field for a non-profit. We then fixed up her resume to prepare her for applications, and she was eventually hired at Thresholds, working in a position similar to mine.
RP: I think back to my first placement. English was not my member’s primary language, and when she came to CCL, she had just been laid off. We had to navigate several challenges, like how she would pay for rent, filing for unemployment, etc. I was there every step of the way.
After working for a few months on applying to different places, I got a call almost at the end of the day. She told me that she had just gotten an offer at the art museum, and it just stuck with me because she told me that I was the first person she told.
What is one thing you would like an employer to have as a takeaway?
RP: That when looking at just the resume and the facts of the application, to remember that there's a person behind that, and that they're more than their past decisions and their current circumstances. Adopt our mindset that everybody is resourceful, creative, and whole. They have the poder.
TR: The communities that we serve are majority Black and Brown, and they have been historically underrepresented and underserved. Our members are strong and capable. They know what they need to do to improve their lives, and they just need that opportunity right now. They're working with us to increase their skills, gain certifications, improve their resumes, cover letters, and they just need employers to see their potential and extend that opportunity to them.