Success Stories

Homeless teen finds job training, work and stability with a little help from a Goodwill career advisor

Vanessa, a blonde teenager, smiles at the camera after getting job help from Goodwill in Maine

Vanessa MacDougal isn’t the type to hem and haw. When the 19-year-old meets an unexpected challenge or opportunity, she chooses her path and pursues it at full speed. 

But the last couple of years have presented the teenager with some tough situations, and she wasn’t always sure where to turn. With a bit of help from Goodwill Workforce Services staff, Vanessa now has a new job and education as a certified nursing assistant, or CNA.

Vanessa grew up in Waldoboro, Maine, and while she was still a student at Medomak High School, her housing situation became tenuous. She moved in with her boyfriend and his parents for a while, and later the two got an apartment together. But the relationship wasn’t working.

“We weren’t good for each other,” she said. After the breakup, her boyfriend kept the apartment. “I spent three weeks crying, thinking I don’t know where to go.”

Staff at Vanessa’s school knew she needed a more stable living situation, so they reached out to the Knox County Homeless Coalition. That organization found her temporary housing in a hotel while she waited for an apartment to become available. Vanessa had some income from her jobs at Warren Community School and at the Samoset Resort.

Then in March 2020, the pandemic hit.

Like most schools in the country, Warren Community School closed. Vanessa lost her after-school teaching job. Her other employer, the Samoset Resort, also closed.

“I was literally jobless,” she said. “I had no idea what to do.”

The Knox County Homeless Coalition introduced Vanessa to Tangie Ripley, a Goodwill career advisor who works out of Rockland.

“I partner with the Knox County Homeless Coalition a lot,” Tangie said.

The connection is a testament to the collaborative approach of both organizations, always trying to deliver resources to those who need them. Where there’s a support gap with one organization, another might be able to fill it, and advisors like Tangie help connect clients to those resources.

Starting with their first phone call, the Vanessa and career adviser Tangie hit it off. Tangie recognized Vanessa as a woman determined to forge ahead despite the extra-challenging circumstances of a pandemic. Despite the sudden loss of both of her jobs, she made some money as a babysitter for her friends’ kids. But she was ready for her next chapter.

“I was like, ‘I need to do something with my life, but I don’t know what to do.’” That’s when she recalled a suggestion her ex-boyfriend’s mom had made a while back: Why not become a CNA?

Vanessa decided that was it, and off she went, chasing that goal in her usual no-holds-barred way. When Vanessa and Tangie met at the Rockland office, Vanessa was ready to go with a stack of all her necessary paperwork. She meant business.

Tangie worked with Vanessa to get enrolled in a CNA program, while also coordinating with the homeless coalition to ensure Vanessa’s housing situation was stabilized. Within a few weeks, Vanessa started her CNA class. She also got a job working in a nursing home.

“I jumped right into it,” Vanessa said. “Full speed ahead.”

Fast forward to today, and Vanessa’s completed her CNA program and moved into her own apartment. And she’s starting a new job as a CNA at Pen Bay Medical Center in Rockport.

“I’m so incredibly nervous, so I am going to be talking a lot,” she joked. “I’m pretty excited.”

But Tangie has all the confidence that Vanessa’s going to shine in her new role — and in whatever else she chooses to do.

“The biggest thing I took away from meeting Vanessa is that when life hands you a bad deal, just jump in with both feet and ride the storm out,” Tangie said.

While Vanessa is charging confidently into her future, Tangie will keep in touch. She will check in to see how things are going over the coming weeks and months. She’ll stay on Tangie’s radar for the next year, and if Vanessa needs anything, she can reach out.

“I tell her, ‘If you need something, come to me. If I can’t do it, I will find someone who will.’”

As for Vanessa, she’d love to work with kids again, and maybe go to art school. Ideally, she’d like to combine the two and eventually become an art teacher — and be a tattoo artist on the side.

Whatever Vanessa chooses to do, she’ll no doubt do it with her jump-in-with-both-feet enthusiasm, and she’ll create success wherever she goes.

The work Tangie and Vanessa did was through Goodwill Northern New England’s Job Connection model, which marries the best practices of social work with workforce development – holistically helping each participant. This particular work was performed thanks to funding from the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. That funding is overseen and managed locally by Coastal Counties Workforce, Inc. If you or someone you know would like help finding work, or getting career training, please contact us through this page:

Like this? Share it: