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Celebrating Bread for the City Social Services: Shanta Hendry

What do you do at Bread for the City?

I’m the Workforce Development Manager, which means I plan, implement, and facilitate training programs for our clients with the goal of getting them employed or advancing in their current job.

What does the training look like?

Our workforce development training started a while back about 16 years ago as a life skills training program to teach people how to work well in a professional setting. But we realized that was not enough to actually get people employed. So for the past few years, we have been revamping the program. We have also moved to a more individualized, one-on-one mentoring approach. As we observed students in a group setting we realized that many were not getting the best out of the program because everyone was at different levels in their work experience.

Even before the pandemic hit, we were researching virtual learning programs to possibly implement into our workforce development vision. Because people were learning at different levels and had different schedules; we wanted to make our programs more accessible. The pandemic really forced us to elevate, move quickly, and expand our virtual training options.

“We’re on a really good path.”
Are there certain skills you prioritize training people on?

Right now we’re focusing on helping participants to develop career pathways and enrolling them into certification programs. There are a lot of employers looking for people with skills in healthcare because of the pandemic. Our workforce development program is hoping to help fill these positions that are currently available; as well as filling positions that will come with the new hospital being built on the grounds of St. Elizabeth. We are the first organization in DC to work with this state-of-the-art virtual learning program called MedCerts. Because MedCerts offer stackable certifications; we are always looking for funding to expand the program for our participants to advance further. Our first cohort of this new training will be this April and will focus on medical office administration as a foundation for other medical certifications.

Our computer lab in our Michelle Obama Southeast Center is up and running for our participants to begin part of their studies onsite. The participants are required to complete 16 hours of study per week. Some of the virtual learning can be done at home, but we are requiring participants to come into our computer lab for at least 8 of those 16 hours. This is so that our staff can add an extra layer of support during the 13 weeks of this program. By having participants come into the computer lab and meet with them face to face, we are hoping to eliminate as many barriers as possible that may arise and focus on retention. We also have several other programs to offer those who may not be interested in healthcare. The good thing about virtual learning is that you can still study and grow even if you have a job at the same time. We’re constantly trying to remove the barriers so that our participants can be a part of e our programs. I know people need to earn money now, so we are hoping to offer stipends to ensure people can take the training and still take care of their families. We also offer groceries for pick up every week for all participants.

“We’re trying to remove the barriers that keep people from learning the skills they want to help improve their lives.”
How did you get into this work?

I started my work in philanthropy during my employment with the DC Summer Youth Program, which was many years ago. I grew up in Northwest DC, near Walter Reed Hospital. I enlisted in the Army Reserve in 1989, but when I finished basic training I came back to a recession. I was a single mom and things got a little tough, my mom suggested I go to Bread for the City for food and rent support. Years later, in 2014, I was working but looking for something new so I applied for a job here as the Representative Payee assistant. Tracy Knight called me and said “you got the job!” and I screamed so loud! I could hear her laughing on the phone.

“My joy came from not only getting the job but joining an organization that helped me. Now I get the chance to do what they did for me.”

A year or two later, a case manager position opened up and I moved into that role. I was there in our NW center for my first four years. It was a lot of hard work but was one of the best jobs ever, I loved it.

So you know, once my neighbors found out I worked at Bread for the City, they always came to me to ask if we had any jobs. My team gave me permission to start putting up jobs on our job board, it wasn’t my job but I wanted to help my community any way I could. Job announcements started coming off the board left and right. Every day several people were at the job boards looking for current openings. People were always asking for me, saying, “Hey, where’s the job board lady?” I had to keep telling people, you know, this isn’t actually my job, I’ve got to do my work, too. I organized Bread’s first job fair in our NW center and 6-12 people were hired on the spot! After that, I started hearing, “Hey, where’s the job fair lady?”

Then, finally maybe a year after I started doing all that, a job became open on the Workforce Development team. I remember the day it opened up. Tracy Knight literally ran over to me and said “hey you need to go to the computer right now and you need to fill out the application for this job, go now!” I was like, “What’s going on?” I met with Ms. Lynda, she loved the things I was doing and I got the job!

It was such a sad day when I had to leave my Representative Payee caseload, but on the bright side, now my daughter Dontrice works with clients I used to have and they love her – that makes me happy!

“I love what I do, I’m not a social worker but I’ve been working in social services for so long, they might as well write me up a certificate”
What motivates you to keep doing this work?

Definitely the relationships I’ve built here with all kinds of people, clients, staff, and community partners.

I’m good at using my personability to get through to people who might have their walls up. I remember a man came into our Southeast Center and maybe had had a bad day and was being a little spicy. I said, “nuh-uh no we’re gonna help you but you can’t come in here being spicy,” he had to laugh at himself. So the next time he came in he announced at the door, “There’s my friend” when he saw me. I try to put that humor into it because people go through stuff and I try not to take anything personally.

“I’m so proud to tell people that I work at Bread because I have a story, Bread helped me, and now I’m working here and my daughter is too.”

The work brings me so much joy when we help people succeed and they come back and tell me how much we helped them and their families. Because that was me, and I know how it feels to go through it. We all need help with something.

What advice would you give someone who wants to do social services?

You have to care about people. You have to. You’re going to interact with all kinds of people all the time. You have to be a good listener, can’t pass judgment, and can’t jump to conclusions. Everybody is coming for something, they need a little help. And that’s okay! When people are embarrassed, I share my situation. Everybody needs something, everybody goes through something. You keep living, you’re going to go through something.

How do you decompress from this work?

Music is my thing, it keeps me motivated during the day. When I’m at home, I take time out to journal, I’ll write quotes and affirmations, and color, as a way to express myself. And I like that it’s something I can eventually pass down to my kids. I have several binders of beautiful creations. Sometimes I also like to just sit in silence as self-care.

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