An Advocacy Fellowship Leads To a Bright Future

Jan 12, 2024   |  By Ryan M. Moser

One of the main tenets of a recovery program is to reach back and help the person struggling behind you, creating a sense of unity and selflessness that builds a community.

After Terissa M. nearly lost her life in a car accident two years ago and suffered a tragic personal loss, she knew that it was time to seek help for her substance use. But what she didn’t know was that one day, she would be in a position to help other people heal too.

“I’d experienced trauma and made poor choices because of my addiction,” said Terissa. “I wanted to change my life so that I could end the cycle of pain, and maybe someday make a difference in someone else’s life.”

Terissa joined the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) last March when she was on house arrest and rebuilding her life. She started a job on a transitional work crew, beautifying the same highways around Sacramento, California that she had once walked when she was houseless.

Terissa worked with a job coach and earned her forklift certification with the crew, but it wasn’t long before the staff recognized her potential and asked Terissa to join CEO’s Advocacy Leadership Committee (ALC).

“It felt so satisfying to be a positive influence for once,” Terissa said. "It’s just amazing to sit with so many people impacted by the justice system and work towards the same goal.”

The committee advocates for reforms like fair chance hiring, increased reentry resources - including direct cash assistance, and ensuring access to food and housing benefits for those returning from incarceration and engaged in workforce services. Recently, Terissa attended a “Quest for Democracy” rally at the state capitol with thousands of people and over 20 coalitions, including CEO.

At the end of the paid six-week cohort in August, Terissa was chosen to be a 2023 advocacy fellow, where she had the opportunity to work more closely with the organizing team and facilitate meetings of up to 20 current ALC members. This enabled her to use her lived experience to help other justice-impacted people through policy and organizing work.

“We organized around the topics that benefit from lived experience, covering subjects like storytelling and policy,” Terissa said. “We shared what we went through and how it can change for the better.”

In addition to the advocacy fellowship, Terissa was selected for the Emerging Leaders Program, a 12-week paid on-the-job apprenticeship that provides participants with advanced career and leadership training along with valuable real-world experience working alongside one of CEO’s departments.

For Terissa, she was given the opportunity to work alongside the job development team at CEO’s Sacramento office, where she is putting the training and mentorship she has been receiving into action, to finally reach back and help another person struggling behind her.

“It has been an exciting learning experience for me and I’m so grateful,” Terissa said. “If you come into the program and take advantage of what CEO offers, the sky's the limit. But you have to work for it.”

To support the initiatives that Terissa advocates for like quality jobs, the Training and Nutrition Stability Act, the Clean Slate bill, and other public investments in reentry, you can join our mailing list or become a supporter today.