In November 2019, 17-year-old Price Hill native Raven Choates enrolled in Santa Maria Community Services’ (SMCS) Comprehensive Case Management Employment Program (CCMEP) with the goal of earning her High School Equivalency (HSE) and obtaining her driver’s license. Once earned, Raven will be the only person in her family to have completed her HSE, or high school diploma. Raven is not only well on her way to earning her HSE, but has also participated in a Work Experience Program and begun working at her first job. Several SMCS employees have had the pleasure of working with Raven and have seen firsthand the commitment Raven has to achieving her goals.


When Raven began working in Santa Maria’s HSE classroom in late 2019, she had been out of school for some time. While Raven would have a long road ahead of her to obtain her HSE, this did not discourage her. Raven attended in-person HSE classes at Santa Maria every day, sometimes even coming to two class sessions in one day. Nothing distracted Raven from her goal. Not even completing a work experience, getting a job, or the changes made to classroom formats due to the pandemic, have prevented her from diligently studying and attending in-person classes when available. Education Instructor, Rose Hamzy said, “As an instructor in the HSE classroom, I am incredibly grateful for students like Raven. Her dedication to succeeding at her education has been inspiring and working with her has been very fulfilling.” Rose continued,


Raven has been in class working hard at every opportunity, staying consistent while we were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and has attended classes every week since our reopening. Watching a student’s hard work pay off is always exciting. Most recently, Raven’s score on her reading comprehension Test of Basic Education (TABE) has increased to the highest level possible. Raven didn’t miss a beat after this gain in her reading score, and she has been studying to re-take the language (grammar) section of the TABE so that she can progress to the Reasoning and Language Arts HSE practice test. I’m so excited to continue to work with Raven and watch her achieve her goals as I know she will.


Raven’s workforce coach, Brooke Moree, echoed Roses’ praise of Raven, stating, “Raven’s greatest strength is her determination. She works constantly to achieve her current goals and takes any opportunity that could help her grow.” Brooke recently used CCMEP funds to purchase Raven’s first ever laptop so Raven can work on her HSE from home on days HSE classes are not offered.


A few months into enrolling in the program, Raven decided that she would like to complete a Work Experience Program (WEP), a CCMEP program in which Santa Maria partners with employers to provide a paid opportunity for youth to partake in on-the-job training. Since Raven had no work history, WEP was a great option for her to build her resume and gain workforce development skills. Raven completed her work experience at SMCS’s Joe Williams Family Center as an After School Program Assistant working with Oyler middle school students. Raven received praise from her worksite manager, Michelle Ricica, who stated at the end of Raven’s work experience, “We absolutely loved having Raven on our team! She showed up every day, on time, eager and ready to help. She did a fantastic job!” While Raven was completing her work experience, she received an award for perfect attendance and obtained her driver’s permit, making her the first in her family to do so. In addition, Raven volunteered with Santa Maria’s Parents on Point Program, providing childcare for parents in the class. While Raven enjoyed her work experience and working with children, she had discovered her “dream job”- working in a coffee shop.


Upon completing her work experience, Raven continued attending HSE classes and worked with her workforce coach to find a job in a coffee shop. In July, Raven was offered a job at BLOC Coffee Company in Price Hill. Raven was ecstatic and accepted the position. Just as she has in all her other endeavors, Raven is doing a fantastic job and her manager, Susan Ruhe, is very happy with her. Susan said, “Raven is always calm, even in the midst of chaos. She is very smart, committed, and learns quickly! She never complains and if she doesn’t know something she asks. She is very humble and kind.” Susan also remembered a morning where Raven overslept a bit (due to not having a working phone to use as an alarm) and literally ran to work in order to get there on time. Her dedication and hard work are an inspiration to her coworkers, with whom Raven has already created friendships and memories by going camping with them and participating in other community activities.


In August, Raven’s workforce coach, Brooke, assisted Raven with opening up her first checking and savings account. They also worked together to create a budged and allot a certain percentage of her paycheck to go toward buying a car, another one of Raven’s long-term goals. In less than a year, Raven has made substantial progress toward her goals, and is an inspiration to everyone who has had the pleasure of working with her. Brooke said,


Raven has taught me the value of persistence. She has been enrolled with us only nine months and has already achieved most of the goals we initially outlined when she began. As we keep adding to her list of goals, she diligently works toward reaching them every day. She demonstrates a great amount of maturity and resilience for her age, which inspires me to work toward my own goals. Raven is a joy to work with and I cannot wait to see what she achieves throughout her time with Santa Maria and beyond. I have complete faith that she can achieve anything she puts her mind to.


In the future, Raven aspires to attend college and obtain a degree in criminology. “[HSE] testing is hard, but the classroom staff helps me. Santa Maria has helped me make a forward path to reach my goals,” said Raven. SMCS has helped Raven achieve her goals by providing information and funds that she would normally not have access to. Santa Maria paid for Raven’s HSE-related costs, Work Experience wages, transportation assistance, driver’s permit, and laptop.


In just under a year, Raven has made significant progress on her goals, and everyone at Santa Maria looks forward to what Raven will accomplish in the upcoming months. To help other incredible youth such as Raven, please make a donation to Santa Maria Community Services at https://santamaria-cincy.org/donate/.