From Life on the Streets to a Job in City Hall

Six years ago, Meghaan was a young woman sleeping on the streets of Portland. “I was 19 and thought I knew everything. I had the mentality that I could do whatever I wanted and no one could stop me. My drinking was at a heightened level, and I was downtown at 1 am just hanging out.” After refusing to follow her mom’s house rules, Meghaan became homeless.

Determined to change the path that she was on, Meghaan connected with New Avenues for Youth, one of the social enterprises in REDF’s national portfolio. She began their job readiness training program, PAVE (Promoting Avenues to Employment), and gained the job, interviewing, and resume writing skills that provided a foundation for her success.

Along with the job training skills she received, Meghaan says the New Avenues team helped her see the untapped potential within herself. “No matter what, I made sure I got to classes every day,” she says. “My case manager made sure she stayed on me all the time because she saw the potential in me. It was great to have someone to talk to about personal struggles in life and where I wanted to be in the future. Knowing I had someone in my corner who was rooting for me, wanted me to succeed, and would do whatever it took to help me be able to get there was a great experience.”

The New Avenues team was impressed by her dedication to the program and her progress, and soon Meghaan was placed at one of New Avenues’ social enterprise businesses—a Ben & Jerry’s “Partner Shop” – where she gained paid, real-world job training. Meghaan was also quick to acknowledge the other support systems in place that helped her find stability. “New Avenues helped with transportation for bus tickets to get to and from work. They did regular one-on-one check-ins and helped me develop my math skills and my writing skills.”

After completing her social enterprise job at Ben & Jerry’s, Meghaan enrolled in the Summer Works program, and landed a human resources internship at Portland’s city hall. She completed her Summer Works internship ready to find a full-time job and left her resume with city hall’s recruitment staff. Before long, Meghaan had her firstever permanent job as a caregiver for a Portland nonprofit.  Serving as a one-on-one caregiver not only helped the people Meghaan was working for, it helped Meghaan.

“Working with people with disabilities was different for me,” she says. “It gave me the chance to experience the lives of other people. I learned to adapt to each person’s situation and connect with them on a more personal level. It’s made me more open-minded about the different people out in the world and how they need help in different ways.”

A few months later, Meghaan received a call from her Summer Works employer, Portland’s city hall. Impressed by the hard work and dedication she demonstrated during her summer internship, they recruited her for a temporary position. Fast forward over four years later, and Meghaan is still working at city hall, currently as a Deputy Auditor, where she is authorized to swear in firefighters, boards and commissions, and answer questions from the public about city codes, charters, and laws that govern the city of Portland.

Meghaan’s personal life has also changed along with her professional life. She has repaired her once-strained relationship with her mom, and she serves as a positive role model to her teenage brother. “I try to do a lot of guiding. I tell him how important it is for him to go to school every day, have goals for himself, and take the time to figure out what do he wants to do in life.”

Meghaan is able to share her hard-won life lessons with the people she meets and works with. “I try to get the word out that there are resources available to those who need them,” she says. “I guide people towards New Avenues when they’re having trouble with their job skills, or keeping a job, or if they’re on verge of becoming homeless.”

As she looks to the future, Meghaan has her sights set on returning to school.  “I want to get my degree to be able to do drug and alcohol counselling and give back to the homeless community,” she says. “I know drugs and alcohol are something a lot of people who are experiencing homelessness struggle with. I want people to learn from my example and see that you can start with no hopes and one day you can wake up and see the potential within yourself.”

The support and encouragement she received at New Avenues is a large part of why giving back to others is such an important part of Meghaan’s dream. “When I was down and out on my luck, someone was there to help me, guide me and make sure I had a positive and bright future ahead of me. I want to do that for someone else. I want to give someone out there some hope that they can do better, they can get anywhere in life they want to get, and they don’t have to be stuck in their current situation.”

She continues, “The experience of being homeless and going through New Avenues for Youth made me what I am today because it helped me grow in so many ways and see the potential within myself that I didn’t even know I had.”

Thanks to the classes at New Avenues on personal finance, Meghaan says, “I’m budgeting my money just fine. I have my own place, my own car, and I’m looking to buy a house in a year or two. From sleeping in the park to having my name on the lease of my own place—my life has changed dramatically.” One thing that hasn’t changed?  “I still buy pints of Ben & Jerry’s,” says Meghaan, “because it’s the best ice cream ever.”