First Graduate of Back Bay Mission’s Micah Day Center Apprenticeship Program Looks to Future with Hope

Apprenticeship Program Case Managers Kristen Hebron and Sarah Smith.

The first-ever graduate of Back Bay Mission’s Micah Day Center Apprenticeship Program recently completed her year-long commitment to develop the skills and tools necessary for gaining and retaining employment.

Begun in 2019, the program serves individuals viewed by society as unemployable, stigmatized because of past circumstances, and/or overlooked by other potential employers, says the Rev. James Pennington, Back Bay’s executive director.

The apprenticeship program “is a needed ministry because it allows our clients/guests to be skillfully employed, self-sufficient, and helps them move forward in a positive way,” Pennington said. “It really encompasses Back Bay’s mission statement of strengthening neighborhoods, seeking justice, and transforming lives.”

Each apprenticeship is different, as the program is built around the needs and goals of the particular individual. “We ask each apprentice in the beginning what goals they see for themselves, and what they want the outcome of the program and time to look like,” said Pennington. “We allow them the ability to have control of their journey. From that point, we try to help them reach their goals.”

In the case of the recent graduate of the program, several obstacles had to be overcome. The first was opening a bank account, a requirement for the apprenticeship: the apprentice had never had a bank account. While there was initial opposition from financial institutions in allowing her to open an account, the apprentice, Back Bay staff, and a local Peoples Bank branch worked together to achieve that goal. Today, for the first time in her life, the apprentice has a bank account and a steady income.

The apprenticeship program also assists with helping the individual develop skills needed for success in the workplace — including social skills, coping in difficult situations, and conflict resolution. Apprentices also learn skills to improve communication, timeliness, and punctuality.

To help her achieve graduation from the program, Back Bay program case managers Kirsten Hebron and Sarah Smith created a “goals poster” listing goals the apprentice could check off as she achieved them. Today, the graduate has been referred to housing, is in the process of starting her own business, and receives a monthly income. Her success has been thanks to her own drive and determination: even in the midst of the pandemic, she showed up every day ready to work hard. Back Bay will continue to guide and mentor the graduate as she moves into the next phase of her journey.

Back Bay is beginning the search for the next person to go through the program. The position will be posted in the Micah Day Center, and all interested guests will receive and fill out an application. “We set a deadline to receive the applications, and we interview each person to determine who will be the best candidate,” said Pennington. “We also provide feedback to the clients if they wish on how their interview was, including areas to work on and things they did well.”

Although the phrase “mental health day” is common in many work places, often such luxuries don’t exist in work settings, and employers don’t always provide an opportunity for staff to learn from failure. For these reasons, internships like the one at Back Bay are vital to long-term success, Pennington added.

“The people we serve bring a new set of challenges to employment. Allowing them to work out such issues as mental health, addiction, problem solving, social interaction skills, conflict resolution and many other things gives them the space to make errors without fear of losing their employment,” he said. “Hopefully, after their time with us is up, they have met their goals, have a bank account, housing, and any additional wrap-around services needed, resulting in further employment opportunities.

“We have faith in this program, and hope in the coming years each Back Bay building or program can have their own apprentice sharing the joy that comes at the end of a year of accomplishments.”

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