The receptionist in a bustling organization like Covenant House Texas is often the first person seen or heard by donors, youth in need of services, people experiencing homelessness and anyone else who comes through the front door. A problem solver, a top-tier customer service representative and a reassuring friend to those in distress, 18-year-old resident Emilia has just completed her certification in the Administrative Training Program and now serves as the receptionist at the CHT administrative building for an eight-week term. The role and training program, headed by Executive Assistant of CHT Melody Olivares, works to give current residents the paid opportunity to gain valuable clerical work experience.
In 2015, Melody found inspiration from a previous similar program that was no longer in existence and began the Administrative Training Program to offer residents the opportunity to learn working phones, Microsoft Office software, typing and other skills valuable to working in an office setting. When the last full-time receptionist left CHT in 2018, the training program had proven so successful that Melody decided not to hire a new one. Instead, she would expand the training program to merge with the Workforce Solutions Work-based Learning program in which they pay youth for 30 hours of work each week. Melody ensured the CHT administration building became one of these worksites and opened another valuable door to financial independence for the youth on campus.
Overseeing the entire process from candidate training to signing her name on their certificate of completion and beyond, Melody has guided about 30 residents through the program. Those residents have gone on to become everything from phlebotomists to hotel concierges and college students.
“As a mother and someone who’s had a youth ministry of my own, working with youth has been a lifelong journey for me,” said Melody. “I love the youth that we serve. It’s very rewarding to be able to work with them directly as they gain confidence and to see that we’re touching lives and making a difference.”
With current receptionist Emilia, Melody feels the same sense of pride as she watches the former trainee thrive in her new role and make exciting plans for the future with the skills she has learned and sharpened.
When Emilia arrived at CHT in December 2021, after aging out of the foster care system, she was cautious about what to expect from her new home after an extended time of living on the streets. A former waitress, she was no stranger to working in customer service and quickly took to the Administrative Training Program’s teachings as she warmed up to the CHT staff who would eventually become her coworkers.
“The more I work here and talk to people like CEO Leslie Bourne, I see for myself that she and the others are so kindhearted and want the best for all of us here,” said Emilia.
The work entails answering the phone, handling mail and directing youth to career services. On occasion, Emilia answers a call from a young person in a situation that mirrors her own past and she feels grateful she is now able to be the kind voice she would have needed.
“The best part of this job is that I get to help people who are in the same position as me and bring them to a better place. I get to catch people in the middle of a bad situation and immediately interfere to get them the right resources,” said Emilia. “I remember being 14 years old and having nowhere to go and being terrified. I look back on the unsafe situations I was in and I’m so grateful to help these people.”
Having just passed the milestone of achieving her certification for administrative training, Emilia’s feelings of optimism for the future and the many accomplishments she has yet to achieve bubble to the surface.
“Getting my certificate made me feel accomplished. Coming here, I had nothing but a change of clothes and CHT helped me when moving forward felt impossible,” said Emilia. “Now I feel like my life is picking up speed and I’m heading towards something great with each achievement.”
Looking to the future, Emilia plans to start the application process for the University of Houston in the fall. Having already written two novels, the aspiring author has dreams of majoring in English and living an independent life someday with the help of the resources and meaningful connections she has made at CHT.
“Coming from my background, there’s nothing more important to me than having my own life and being stable,” said Emilia. “To me, independence means that, even if I have nothing, I belong to myself. It’s very hard to do when you’ve faced extreme situations and homelessness before, but the more you realize you solely belong to yourself, the more you’re able to achieve and grow in your independence.”