Kelsie Wilkens and Hanora Palmer

When Hanora Palmer enrolled in Santa Maria Community Service’s (SMCS) Comprehensive Case Management and Employment Program (CCMEP) in 2018, she had recently aged out of the foster care system and was seeking employment and High School Equivalency (HSE) services. Now, Hanora continues to study for her HSE and has recently enrolled in the popular Work Experience Program. Though Hanora has grappled with mental health issues, slowing the process to gaining her HSE and employment, she pushes herself toward self-sufficiency with the support and guidance of SMCS Workforce Development staff, especially her Workforce Coach, Kelsie Wilkens, and Employment Coordinator, Taylor Rodgers.

On April 12, 2021, Hanora arrived at O-Pie-O bright and early to begin her Work Experience at the popular local bakery. Hanora strives toward the goal of working in the culinary arts, making O-Pie-O a great fit. Taylor reflected, “You can tell she really appreciates the program. O-Pie-O is a good choice for her and matches her interests in cooking and culinary fields.”  Hanora agreed, describing a love of cooking and baking, and citing making pie crust as her current favorite activity on the job.

O-Pie-O is one of the Employer Partners SMCS collaborates with to place youth in CCMEP’s Work Experience Program. Santa Maria’s Work Experience Program offers youth opportunities to engage in paid on-the-job learning in a variety of fields at partner Work Sites. The participants’ wages are paid by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and the Work Site agrees to provide in-depth training and learning for real-world job skills and experience. As Taylor, the Coordinator of the program at SMCS, pointed out, “Work Experience is an amazing opportunity because it helps youth learn skills and also contributes to the growth of local businesses.” Hanora further reflected that, “Work Experience made it quick to find employment, and Santa Maria made it very easy.”

One of the most enticing aspects of Work Experience for youth is the potential for full-time, permanent employment at the Work Site if a participant successfully completes the Work Experience Program. Hanora aims toward this goal because, “it is so hard to find permanent employment, so this is a great option!” Traditionally, the Work Experience program has paid $10 an hour and lasted for eight weeks. Throughout those eight weeks, participants not only learn skills at the Work Site, but they meet weekly with their Santa Maria Workforce Coach, who guides them through a career-focused curriculum that includes essential job-readiness skills like social-emotional learning (sometimes called “soft skills”) and workplace basics.

Hanora Palmer

Recently, due to increased demand for the program and frequent requests by participants to extend their Work Experience time, SMCS staff have collaborated with Hamilton County Jobs and Family Services (HCJFS) to introduce both a wage increase and an increase in the length of time, to $12.50 per hour for 12 weeks. Taylor explained, “We realized $10 an hour wasn’t competitive enough compared to other employment options, and increasing the time provides more of a cushion for learning the skills needed for permanent employment.” Hanora was delighted to learn of the increase, stating, “The wage increase helps me by getting me more leverage for everyday expenses and a better daily life!”

SMCS is proud to assist youth like Hanora toward self-sufficiency, not only through Workforce programs and services like Work Experience, but also through advocacy and collaboration with partners like HCJFS to strengthen opportunities for these promising young community members.


To help other incredible youth such as Hanora, please consider donating to Santa Maria Community Services at santamaria-cincy.org/donate/