Imagining the Positive

WorkReady Philadelphia is a vital program that has piloted students to the threshold of their careers. It is h osted and funded through the Philadelphia Youth Network, who “funds and brokers action with the right partners to collectively address barriers.” Participating local businesses give students a chance to gain valuable work experience through paid internships, while simultaneously attending WorkReady workshops.
This is the third year that Beck’s is participating in the WorkReady program; each year the students have been bright and eager to work. And, one of our current interns, Jaiden Wiggins, is a finalist in the WorkReady Social Consciousness Project. Go Jaiden! Nathalie Cerin, is the Employment Specialist for Episcopal Community Services, which is one of the providers of WorkReady. She has ushered students in and monitored their progress throughout the six week program. We thought it would be great to interview Nathalie and learn more about her and WorkReady.

I read that your grew up in Haiti, what was life like in Haiti?
Yes. I have been in Philadelphia since 2005. I moved here my Senior Year of High School, and moved in with my older sister. Senior year, no parents. I had to be an adult. I guess, I was a boring kid, all I did was study. I attended the Archbishop Prendergast Catholic High School in Drexel Hill and then went onto acquire my undergraduate degree from Immaculata University.

How does life in Philadelphia compare to life in Haiti?
Haiti is a country that is still being developed. When I arrived in Philadelphia, I wasn’t accustom to living in a city where there were trains. There was a little cultural shock, but I had been here before, we made family trips to Philly when I was younger.In Haiti, there were 250 kids in my school total. My graduating class from High School at Prendergast was as big as my entire school in Haiti.

• What inspired you to work with Philadelphia youth?
I am an educator and I am also a musician. I taught music in the Bronx — commuted four days a week. And, I am accustomed to working with youth and curriculum, so coming to Episcopal Community Services was a natural move.

• Describe a good day / week at WorkReady.
The WorkReady team is here in the Hub. The kids are gathered around this large table working on a project. I oversee the activities. This year we had a special project: Students identified a social issue that they care about and made a plan to effectively make change for the better. We have been rehearsing the presentation of the projects all week.
The projects will be submitted on August 9th to judges. The best group will win money — gift cards. We are project oriented all day long. The kids are super fun. This past week we had an impromptu talent show and one of the kids got up and just started
really singing — he was from the High School of Performing Arts and had traveled with The Stylistics.

• What is WorkReady?
SYS, Seeing Youth Succeed, work-ready. We prepare them for the right Mind Set — career development. This is well attended and has a high performance level. We teach and stress that students learn to advocate for themselves. This past week an intern had personal issues and realized that a work place can be supportive if one is experiencing personal issues. The participating work-site gave him another chance.

• Can you share your favorite WorkReady success story?
Very cool to see these kids land their first jobs. Some of the kids really rise to the occasion. Some interns are kept on as part-time employees following their internships and then became full-time employees. Some kids come back the following year and request to work at the same place where they had interned the previous summer. They form “adult” relationships.
During the work ready program the kids have met celebrities and big personalities.
One of our youth had the opportunity to read her poem to the Poet Laureate from Birmingham, England in 2018, Roy McFarlane. McFarlane listened to the students work and offered feed back.
On another occasion, a film was screened at the Art Sanctuary and one of the students really connected with the film maker. The film maker was open and they engaged in dialogue — they had a lot in common. Seeing the kids really nail it is so inspiring!

• Your title is Employment Specialist, but do you often find you
are a counselor?

Yes, I am everything. We support the youth in this program for six weeks. What could happen in those six weeks? Are they eating? Can they get to work? We split the kids up and each of us is assigned to monitor. What is going on? I have to be present.

• I read that you are also a musician. Does working with
youth inspire your art?

Yes. The fact that I am an artist allows me to be a better imaginer. The ability to imagine a more just and safe world. Being an Artist, I keep the positive imagination alive. I visualize a hopeful future for anyone
I work with.

• Do you cook?                                                                                                              Yes, I do like to cook. It’s a Haitian and American mix. This past Friday, I slow cooked Pork shoulder. I purchased the pork at Reading Terminal Market, brought it home, rubbed it down with dry mustard; sautéed on all sides and then slow cooked it for 10 hours in Yuengling beer. I invited my friends over for Nathalie’s creation.

What is your favorite memory about food?                                                Haiti—on the way to the beach, there were street vendors who sold fried pork, grilled conch and plantains — there was so much. We would stop and buy a lot of food. While we were sitting on the beach, men would stroll up and down the beach selling buckets of ice cold oysters and cups of conch that were in a hot sauce made with lime, and very hot peppers. We would EAT!

• What is your favorite restaurant in Philadelphia?                                        I would love to try the Fried Shrimp Po’ boy from Beck’s Cajun Cafe!            But, I do love El Rey for Nachos and I am always a fan of a good burger        and a beer!

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