Dawn Nelson

Dawn Nelson had seen an ad for Opportunity Junction’s job training program years ago, but at the time, the voice in her mind repeated a phrase it had said her entire life: “You’re not smart enough.”

She set aside the hope for something better than scraping by day by day and listened to those negative words. 

Just before the pandemic hit, she accepted a job at the county elections department even though she had no prior experience. Working there prompted her to re-evaluate herself and her future. She looked up Opportunity Junction again to see what the nonprofit’s Administrative Careers Training (ACT) program had to offer. For the first time, she pushed back against the voice…

“I figured if I can do something that is completely out of my wheelhouse and do such a good job at it, then anything was possible,” Dawn said.

But then election season ended, she was out of work during a global pandemic, living in her brother’s apartment, and on top of everything, her mom passed away. Despite the challenges, Dawn decided to do something she wished she’d done before: ignore her own self-doubt and finally enroll in ACT Class 66. Even though the course was demanding, it turned out to be just what she needed to keep from slipping into depression. 

“I was able to focus on myself, work through the beginning stages of grief and losing her, and make myself better as a whole, which is always what she wanted,” Dawn said, tearing up as she shared that her mother had always encouraged her to go back to school. “I hope that she looks down, and she’s proud.”

Dawn said the leadership and guidance that Opportunity Junction provided helped build confidence when speaking to a future employer. She had previously struggled with explaining why there were employment gaps on her resume.

“It was exactly what I needed,” she said. “It gave me the confidence to talk to anybody about my employment history without it being a negative … they guide you through how to maneuver those questions.”

And by stepping through the door at Opportunity Junction, she found yet another door opened. As part of the ACT program, she interned at SparkPoint, which is Contra Costa County’s one-stop shop for services that help low-income individuals and families become financially stable. Through this, she received debt and credit counseling, along with help in finding a home of her own. A week before her internship ended, she landed a full-time remote position with Fidelity National Home Warranty. And she recently moved out of her brother’s apartment and into a two-bedroom house in Concord. 

“I needed to be better for me. I am 45 years old, and I was just in such a rut for so long,” Dawn continued. “I knew I didn't want to stay in that rut, and Opportunity Junction was my answer to get out of it. So I chose me this time.” 

She encouraged anyone considering Opportunity Junction’s programs to give themselves the benefit of the doubt. 

“You will have an amazing support system. The support you get from the OJ staff is absolutely amazing, and if you think you can’t, you can,” she said, adding that she should have enrolled when she saw the first ad. “I am the prime example that you can.”

 She went on to note that the program requires participants to work hard, but it pays off in the end.

 “Without Opportunity Junction, without SparkPoint, none of this would even be possible. I would still be struggling and trying to figure out what the next day would take to get by,” she said. “Your life will change. But you have to take the right step forward to make that change for yourself.”