Mara-Beth M.

Mara-beth portrait at Trader K's

“I was quiet, I was nervous, I wasn’t sure how to act.” This is how Mara-Beth described herself at the beginning of her career journey.

“Her best quality is her outgoing personality—she’s very friendly and personable with our customers.” This is how Mara-Beth is described by her current boss, Karen Sciarabba, owner of Trader K’s in Downtown Ithaca.

Mara-Beth, like a growing number of young professionals in Tompkins County, had her very first work experiences through Challenge’s Youth Employment Program. She spent three consecutive summers in three different jobs, gaining competency and confidence with each new placement and developing vital soft skills through the program’s weekly classes. Her third placement in the Hilton Garden Inn’s fast-paced kitchen proved to be the most challenging experience of all, but she had the courage and initiative to step back and ask for help from her job coach, and by summer’s end she had impressed her supervisors enough to get a job offer.

However, Mara-Beth wanted a different kind of work environment, so she decided to enroll in Challenge’s Employment Training Program (ETP) to explore other options. ETP begins with a highly individualized discovery and job development phase and then offers full-time onsite job coaching for up to a year. Our dedicated employment specialists work with job seekers to master essential job functions and to improve skills like time management, customer service, and conflict resolution. Initial wages during this intensive training period are covered by New York State, which gives employers a greater measure of flexibility as they consider program participants as long-term hires.

During ETP’s job development phase, Mara-Beth visited Trader K’s and sensed an instant chemistry with the staff. She started her placement there last March and by the summer, the store agreed to add a shift on their payroll. As of January 1 of this year, Mara-Beth is a full-fledged sales associate at Trader K’s, requiring only periodic check-ins from Challenge’s extended support staff.

While her current duties include cleaning, taking inventory, and color-coordinating the racks, she says, “My favorite part of the job is talking to customers when they need help.” So, if you’re in the market for some gently-used clothing or accessories, be sure to stop in at 119 The Commons and ask for Mara-Beth. And when you do, be sure to congratulate her—not only on her new job but also her upcoming nuptials. She and her fiancé are getting married next January!