When Kaitlyn Carrender enrolled in the Comprehensive Case Management and Employment Program (CCMEP) at Santa Maria Community Services (SMCS), she was hoping to receive employment coaching and earn her High School Equivalency (HSE). Little did she know that enrolling in this program would not only help her achieve these goals, but also lead to a full-time career as SMCS’s Office Coordinator. Though her journey had ups and downs and required Kaitlyn to adapt to new realities several times, she never let that discourage her. With the help of SMCS staff, Kaitlyn persevered and ultimately not only achieved, but exceeded the goals she set for herself.


Kaitlyn, a Somerset, Kentucky native, moved to the Price Hill area at 10 years old. Due to extenuating circumstances, Kaitlyn dropped out of high school her junior year and a few years later enrolled in SMCS in May of 2016 seeking HSE services. In just one month, Kaitlyn obtained her HSE. Current Education Coordinator, Briana Blanchard, spoke to just how big of an accomplishment this is, saying,

Kaitlyn was able to earn her GED in one month’s time, which is very rare for the students in our program. Kaitlyn’s dedication to her studies and her future were the motivation behind quickly obtaining her diploma and it propelled her into her current career working for Santa Maria Community Services. Kaitlyn is the office coordinator for SMCS’s Literacy Center West, where she obtained her diploma, and her presence is a constant reminder of what our students can accomplish.


Former Education Director and Kaitlyn’s Workforce Coach, Lyndsi Fitzsimmons, gave more insight into the type of student Kaitlyn was, stating, “Kaitlyn took initiative and is very independent, so she needed little help from the classroom staff to move forward with getting her GED.” The success of obtaining her HSE was just the first of many achievements Kaitlyn would accomplish in the coming months.


Though Kaitlyn had come to SMCS to receive assistance to complete a State Tested Nursing Assistant (STNA) training at Great Oaks, a couple days before the classes were set to begin, they were canceled due to low enrollment. Having already quit her job to do this training, Kaitlyn did not know what to do until the next STNA training would be offered several months later. This is when Kaitlyn’s workforce coach, Lyndsi Fitzsimmons, presented the idea of Work Experience to Kaitlyn. Work Experience is a CCMEP program that offers paid on-the-job training and experience to CCMEP youth. SMCS’s office coordinator at the time, Kelsie Wilkens, was set to go on maternity leave soon, and the office would need someone to fill her spot in the interim. After noticing Kaitlyn’s meticulously color-coded planner one day in an employment meeting, Lyndsi conceived the idea to invite Kaitlyn to do a work experience at the office.


Kaitlyn began her work experience at SMCS on January 17, 2017 and quickly fell in love with the work of office administration. In order to spend more time with her family, Kelsie Wilkens returned to SMCS only part-time, which allowed for Kaitlyn, who realized through this work experience that the healthcare field was not a good fit for her, to interview for the full-time Office Coordinator position. Through her time as a work experience participant, Kaitlyn was able to showcase her skills to Lyndsi, who would be hiring for the Office Administer position. Lyndsi said, “Kaitlyn is a powerhouse. Her greatest strengths are her caring heart, dedication, and that she has an amazing work ethic. Kaitlyn does everything with excellence, and she is devoted to the people that she loves, and the people that she serves at work. She has so much wisdom, is a quick learner, and views every challenge as an exciting problem to solve (not one that will hold her back).”


For these reasons and more, Lyndsi was eager to interview Kaitlyn for the position. Kaitlyn was offered the position and has been SMCS’s Office Coordinator since August 17, 2017. She reflected on this, saying,

I have been in the role for going on four years and I cannot even imagine what my life would look like if it weren’t for the Work Experience Program, Lyndsi’s leap of faith, on the girl with the color-coded planner, and everyone at SMCS who has supported me and helped me grow over the years. I am always learning from my co-workers and am forever grateful for the opportunity to work with such amazing people at such a phenomenal organization. My goal for the future is to attend college so I can move into different roles at Santa Maria as they become open. I am always encouraged to further my education by staff and leadership at Santa Maria, so I know that if I ever needed any support, I could reach out. I love being a previous client and working with incoming clients because I get to share my story with others in hopes that it encourages them to let our staff help them achieve all of their goals like SMCS did for me. If it weren’t for our generous funders and those who offer support in the form of donations, we would not be able to do all the amazing work we do in the community each day.


Lyndsi also reflected on Kaitlyn’s successes, stating,

Kaitlyn has been through so many difficult experiences in her life, and she had to grow up at a very early age. She spent most of her adolescence taking care of her family by working full time while also trying to focus on school all the while managing the normal challenges expected with growing up. Given Kaitlyn’s circumstances, one might say that she had every right to become an angry person that is skeptical of people. And yet, she still has the biggest heart of anyone I know, and she still is so loyal to those that she loves, and she still has joy! Her heart for others truly amazes me. My dream is for Kaitlyn to know and believe that she is truly an exception to the norm and that she is extremely valuable to all who know her. Often times she assumes others are like her, but the truth is that her attitude, work ethic, go getter mentality, and her resilience is truly remarkable. She is an outlier in every aspect.