A tragedy in Vernaya Dennis' life sent her spiraling a few years ago, but she was determined to get things back on track.
Since getting accepted into the EXCEL program, she's been building her professional skills through an internship with UCSF's Occupational Health department.
Dennis is part of the latest EXCEL class of 18 San Francisco residents who completed the 10-week training program on June 17. They each have been placed into a 4-month paid administrative internship within both UCSF campus and medical center departments, where they will gain invaluable skills on the job.
Dennis, a resident of the Bayview/Hunter's Point neighborhood, answered a few questions about her EXCEL experience thus far, and what she plans to do next:
What were you doing before you got involved with the EXCEL program and how did you hear about it?
My previous work experience was in the catering food/service industry, and I also spent 13 years as a self-employed hairstylist. In 2008, my spouse of 14 years and father of my son was murdered, and I went through a rough period in my life. During that time, my self-esteem was very low and I was suffering from depression. I lost my home and ended up in a homeless shelter in the Tenderloin.
I started taking the necessary steps to get my life back on track and through the Jobs Now program, I was initially placed into a job at a non-profit organization. Returning to the workforce provided me with the opportunity to learn the skills that would increase my chances of competing in the job market. It was here that I received the flyer for the EXCEL program and I decided to attend the orientation at the Mission One-Stop Center.
After the orientation, I knew this was an incredible opportunity that I needed to take advantage of. I knew there would be a lot of competition getting into the program, but after all I'd been through I wanted to give it a shot. When I received the call that I'd been accepted, I fell to my knees and thanked GOD. Now here I am ... an intern at UCSF.
How would you describe your experience working with Occupation Health Services (OHS)? What have you enjoyed the most?
Interning with OHS has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my life. Through this opportunity, I've learned so much about myself, as well as built my network, and developed new skills that will help me reach my career goals. Working in the medical field is new to me so there are many challenges, but my willingness to learn and the help and support from the OHS staff have been crucial to my development.
What I enjoy most about my internship is working with the OHS staff. They are always there to answer my questions and teach me new things and I love working with the people here. I really feel like they care about helping me reach my career goals, and the skills I've been learning have helped me become a positive role model for my son.
What are your career goals after you complete the EXCEL program?
Once I complete my internship, my first goal is to be placed in a new assignment through UCSF's Interim Staffing Services. I definitely don't want to end up out of work again! I want to continue to build my skills and eventually land a career position with UCSF, but I'm focusing on reaching one goal at a time. I've also enrolled in phlebotomy classes in the fall because I want to further my education in order to achieve some of my long-term career goals.
What advice would you give to someone that is interested in entering the EXCEL program?
Be positive, optimistic and remain proactive in taking the steps to reach your goals. You have to remain open-minded and ready and willing to learn new things. Don't be afraid of making mistakes, because making mistakes provides an opportunity for you to learn. If at first you don't succeed, just dust yourself off and try again. Hard work pays off so always strive for EXCEL-lence!