yisha Harris starts her day at 4 a.m. She wakes up and heads to her first full-time job as a cashier at a hospital. After an eight-hour shift, Harris has a half hour to get to her second full-time job as a housekeeper in the Bressler Research Building at the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB). By 11:45 p.m., Harris is finally on her way home where she’ll go straight to bed for her alarm to ring again at 4 a.m. the next day. Then, Saturdays are dedicated to helping her two kids with their academics and extracurriculars.
“Basically, Sundays are my only days to recharge, rest, and get geared up for the next week to do it all over again,” she says.
The workdays are long and exhausting, but Harris says she’s grateful for the long hours, especially when she looks back at how far she has come. Five years ago, Harris was between jobs, going through a divorce, and facing homelessness.
“That was a really low time,” says Harris, dabbing her eyes. “Losing my marriage and my home and having to send my kids to relatives to stay. It was really difficult, but it taught me a very valuable lesson. I learned that I’m as strong as I am. I didn’t know that until I had to face those adversities.”
Harris confided in Robin Saunders, EdD, MS, about her struggles. At the time, Saunders was executive director of the UMB CURE Scholars Program, a STEM pipeline program aimed at reducing racial disparities in the science and health care industries. Harris’ daughter, Kori, is a CURE Scholar and has dreams of becoming a pediatrician.
Harris told Saunders she needed to find a steady job so she could continue supporting Kori’s dream. Saunders pointed Harris to the UMB Community Engagement Center (CEC) and its Workforce Wednesday program, which is designed to help community members achieve their career goals.
Workforce Wednesday provides a number of resources to help connect neighbors to job opportunities including one-on-one resume/cover letter development, mock job interviews, and job training workshops. Computers are available for residents who need to fill out online applications, but don’t have internet access.
“The staff there are very knowledgeable, they’re helpful, and they want to see you succeed,” says Harris. “It’s a win-win situation.”
Harris ended up visiting the CEC every single day and became friendly with all of the staff. Thanks to her persistence and collaboration with the CEC, they were able to secure her an interview at UMB. Shortly after, Harris landed the floor technician job.
“It’s very empowering,” says Harris. “I was homeless and now I’m purchasing a home. I was bouncing from job to job and now I have a promising one where I could see advancement and growth. It’s just very empowering.”
Harris describes herself as a “walking advocate” for the CEC. She shares her success story with everyone she meets and hopes to eventually work for the CEC, so she can help others who may be facing the struggles she had faced.
“I’m very excited about the CEC expansion,” says Harris. “I see big things for it and hopefully, you’ll see me there, too!”