Ellie L.

Chicago

My Year Up moment happened at the University of Michigan. After about a year and a half of “attending” classes, I realized that my future was not in Industrial and Operations Engineering. So I took some time off and began volunteering at the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center (SAPAC). There, I began as a Peer Educator and also worked on the crisis line and advocacy service. This is where I met a mentor who changed the course of my professional and personal growth.

I learned that advocacy, counseling, and designing client-centered programs was what I wanted to do. My mentor challenged me when I wanted to take the easy way out. She helped me think about the greater cause, not just the client in front of me. And most importantly, she demonstrated how to work with a person’s strengths and tap into everyone’s resiliency. I re-enrolled in Sociology and Women’s Studies classes and finally felt engaged and passionate about the work. I knew that I was on the right track.

There were many twists and turns to my college career, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I went from someone who only saw the here-and-now to someone who sees ten steps down the line. I also went from someone who wanted to take a short cut to someone who wants to learn from the experience.

In my Program Manager role at Year Up Chicago, I sometimes have to act quickly. However, I have learned that it’s okay to slow down and think about the impact these quick decisions might have. I’ve also learned that not every decision may be easy, but that there’s always a reason. For everyone starting their own journey, I would tell them: Make your mistakes. Learn your lessons. And celebrate your victories.

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