Youth Job Training: From Surviving to Thriving

Ernest got the job training he needed through TAP’s Young Adult Life Enhancement (Y.A.L.E.) program.

When the pandemic hit, Ernest found himself homeless and unemployed in a city where he knew no one. He was “just trying to survive,” he says, and that crowded out any goals or plans for the future. Addressing each day’s new challenges took all his time and energy.

Last August, as he walked around Roanoke, Ernest kept seeing the TAP building. Curious, he Googled it, and he called the same day. That’s when he met Kathleen Nettnin, who coordinates job training at TAP for youth experiencing homelessness. She referred him to our Young Adult Life Enhancement (Y.A.L.E.) program. Since then, “everything was on the ups” for him.


Y.A.L.E. prepares court-involved young adults ages 18–24, like Ernest, for self-sufficiency. The program offers free classes and connects youth to job and training opportunities. Participants can complete their high school diploma or GED, gain work and apprenticeship experience, and earn certifications like CNA, ServSafe, and customer service. Y.A.L.E. also provides a weekly stipend of $125 so that participants can focus on learning and growing, not just surviving.

The program readies youth not only for the workforce, but for stability and long-term success as well. Youth who join the program learn job-readiness and life skills and receive one-on-one mentoring. Ernest’s mentors include former Y.A.L.E. coordinator Shantell Dupree and current coordinator Kamyron Meeks. He says talking with them has not only prepared him for his job, it’s helped him see his worth. “Here it’s just genuine love,” he says.

Thanks to the customer service certificate and other skills that he gained through Y.A.L.E., Ernest found a job. Combining his earnings with his Y.A.L.E. stipend enabled him to move from Roanoke Rescue Mission’s emergency shelter to an apartment of his own.


Once Ernest moved into his new apartment, another challenge arose. He hadn’t had time to combat his depression and anxiety while he was simply surviving, and now it hit him hard. Ernest was able to take healthy living and mindfulness classes through Y.A.L.E. He especially enjoyed the mindfulness classes, which he says have improved his mental health and given him a more positive outlook. “Sometimes you have to break down to rebuild,” he says.

Ernest’s new positive outlook has positive changes to back it up. Unlike a year ago, he is now housed and employed. The program also connected him with additional training, and still acts as a support system he can rely on. These days, he’s furthering his education, exploring career options, and recommending Y.A.L.E. to others every chance he gets.