For many students, high school can be challenging. Exploring and creating a self-identity, developing and maintaining a social network, navigating through societal and peer pressures, staying ahead academically, and planning for the future can be overwhelming. Doing all of this while battling homelessness is exponentially more difficult.
In 2013, Anitra had just started high school and was searching for something to help guide her through the next four years. She heard about Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont’s Career Leadership Academy for Youth (CLAY) program at a school resource fair and decided to check it out. She’s been attending the program ever since.
“I went to that first meeting and I felt like I belonged, so I kept coming back,” Anitra said.
CLAY is designed to work with high school youth and emerging adults ages 14-21 who are interested in personal growth, career exploration and character molding. The goal is to engage participants in transformative relationships that will assist them in becoming fully prepared adults with the ability to secure family sustaining employment through services such as academic coaching, leadership and life skills development, career preparation, horizon broadening experiences and vocational coaching.
Despite being academically advanced since elementary school, Anitra lacked self-confidence. When she began attending CLAY, she was shy, timid and lacked a strong sense of self. However, over the past four years, Anitra has developed a strong self-identity and transformed into the buoyant leader she is today.
“CLAY has definitely helped my confidence,” Anitra said. “I’m not open to sharing certain sides of myself, and CLAY has helped me find comfort outside of my comfort zones. I no longer feel the need to change myself to be like everyone else.”
Anitra is not the only one who has noticed personal growth over the years. Shay Landreth, a youth career development specialist at Goodwill, has worked with Anitra since she began CLAY and has watched her blossom into the compelling, confident and charismatic young person she is today.
“The main change I have seen in Anitra is her growth in self-confidence. I believe the long-term model of CLAY has given Anitra a place to grow comfortable with her surroundings and the people around her, allowing her to feel more comfortable sharing her voice in the group and as she meets new people,” Shay said. “Anitra literally went from a timid young woman who would barely make eye contact and whose voice you could barely hear, to the confident young woman she is today who volunteers to emcee at events.”
In 2014, in the midst of Anitra’s self-growth, life threw a curveball. As if navigating high school isn’t difficult enough, Anitra’s family was evicted from their home during her sophomore year. For a few months, they lived out of their car or bounced from house to house of distant relatives when the opportunity presented itself.
Despite battling homelessness and the plethora of obstacles that comes with it, Anitra was able to persevere, leaning on her CLAY family many times for support, encouragement and stability. Her mentor, Shay Landreth, is proud of Anitra for overcoming her obstacles and is happy that Anitra had the CLAY program to turn to during her time of need.
“I have learned a lot from Anitra, but the lesson that stands out most to me is that no matter how big the obstacle to our goal may appear to us, through persistence, community and believing in ourselves, we can overcome,” Shay said. “I am grateful that I was able to be a part of a program that stood beside Anitra and her family during some of those low moments, and was able to support her through those life challenges.”
Today, Anitra is flourishing. She is at the top of her class and is currently applying to some of the nation’s most competitive and prestigious universities. She wants to study computer science and video game design, with the hopes of creating video games one day that portray women in a positive light. Anitra feels very thankful for the CLAY program and what it has done to create a bright path toward her future.
“If I had never gone to CLAY, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I would probably just be following the crowds,” Anitra said. “Now I’m my own person. I’m beautiful, and I have greatness inside of me.”