20-year-old Alicia* was living in her car with her partner and her dog, after leaving home because of family conflict exacerbated by economic constraints. Alicia dropped out of school after completing 8th grade and had never held a job.

Luckily, she found YouthCare and learned about our Tile Project, a pre-employment training program designed for young people like Alicia to help learn workplace expectations and financial management skills. Participants earn minimum wage while creating a beautiful tile mosaic (which is donated back to YouthCare and sold to support the program).

Alicia enrolled in YouthCare’s Tile Project in May 2013 while still living in her car. “It became immediately clear that Alicia had strong capabilities: she is intelligent, resourceful, and highly motivated,” her YouthCare case manager Leslie Horton says. In addition to participating in Tile, Alicia received GED tutoring at YouthCare and was soon able to pass all the practice exams.

She also participated in YouthCare’s job readiness classes, learning how to create a resume, cover letter, and references sheet, as well as how to search for jobs online and use email to apply for them.

One of the first online applications Alicia did in the Tile Project was to a local clothing company; she got an interview. Because of her interview practice in the Tile Project and because of her own natural confidence and abilities, Alicia felt prepared and hit the interview out of the park! She was offered employment soon after and began her very first job.

Thanks to Alicia’s steady income, she and her partner (who also found employment) are looking for an apartment with help from her YouthCare case manager. Leslie also referred them to the Landlord Liaison Project to help them to find a suitable apartment, reduce their barrier of lack of rental history, and help them with deposits and move-in costs if needed.

With her case manager, Alicia and her partner are learning how to budget and plan for an apartment, and how to search for apartments and work with landlords. A big part of that is asking the right questions up front, such as “Is WSG included in the rent or separate? Do you accept pets and is there a pet deposit?”

Meanwhile, with the strong encouragement of Tile Staff, Alicia has made good progress on her GED: she has taken and passed two of the five tests and is working to fit the remaining exams into her work schedule.

Building a mosaic takes time and patience; each piece has to be ready and the artist has to know how to fit them together so that the final image comes through. From education, to housing, to employment training, YouthCare’s programs provide homeless young people with the pieces they need to build the life they envision for themselves.

* Not her real name