Advocacy Corner: New Skills Pay the Bills

Advocacy Corner: New Skills Pay the Bills

Written by Barbara Ornelas, Reentry Advocacy Fellow


I get asked a lot about my transition from prison to purpose. I’ve been out for four and a half years now, and let me tell you, it’s been quite the ride. People often wonder how I got to where I am today, so let me tell you a bit about my story and the things I did to turn my life around.


First off, I knew I didn’t want my past to define me. I wanted a career that involves helping people who were walking the same path I once did. That realization was the first step in my journey.


I quickly learned that having a bunch of skills in my toolkit wasn’t just a good idea; it was the key to unlocking the career I dreamed of. It’s not just about landing a job; it’s about securing a career that aligns with your dreams. So, I made it my mission to add as many tools to my skill belt as possible.


Have you ever thought about climbing the career ladder in your current job? Well, I did, and let me tell you, it’s totally doable. The trick is to build on what you already know. I had conversations with management and supervisors about opportunities to move up and the skills I needed for those promotions. Showing that you’re hungry to grow is like music to your employer’s ears.


Dreaming of a career change? It’s an exciting journey waiting to happen, but you don’t have to dive in headfirst. I started small while still holding down a full-time job. Online courses, workshops, and evening classes that matched my new career path became my secret weapons. Each step was a stride closer to my dream career. Remember, it’s never too late to pivot and pursue your passion.


I also explored leadership fellowships like the ones at Leadership Austin. These programs opened doors to valuable insights, networking opportunities, and skill-building sessions tailored for emerging leaders. I also enrolled in leadership development programs offered by organizations like the Austin/Travis County Reentry Roundtable, focusing on honing my leadership skills and creating positive change within my community.


One of the game-changers for me was becoming a peer support specialist. Leveraging my lived experience, I started providing mentorship and support to individuals going through the reentry process. It added a unique perspective to my leadership approach and became a fulfilling part of my journey.


So, that’s my story in a nutshell– from finding a purpose to climbing the career ladder and becoming an emerging leader in my community. It’s all about adding skills to your toolkit, advancing where you are, dreaming big but starting small, and embracing leadership opportunities. Here’s to turning dreams into reality and showing the world that your past doesn’t define your fut

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The Austin/Travis County Reentry Roundtable is collaborative promoting safe and healthy communities through effective reentry and reintegration of formerly incarcerated persons and individuals with criminal histories in Austin/Travis County, Texas.

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