Featued Alum Mary Image 250x350Mary Mei was in a bad place before she came to Opportunity Junction. She had been through a divorce, and after 20 years as a stay-at-home mother, she had a significant gap in her work experience history.

While Mary wanted to get back into the workforce, she knew she was far behind on necessary tech skills.

“I don’t want to say I was scared. I was terrified. Because I didn’t have skills, I didn’t work for 20 years, and I don’t have much of an educational background,” she shared. “I was basically living on spousal support and child support, and it was not a lot.”

She found Opportunity Junction online, but after reading about the services offered through the organization’s Administrative Careers Training (ACT) program, she said, “I thought, ‘This is too good to be true!’ But I figured I would just join.”

While she would soon learn that the nonprofit organization was exactly what she needed and more, she contended with internal fears that told her she wasn’t tech-savvy enough to complete the program.

Her early test results weren’t exactly encouraging.

When she took the Word benchmark assessment test at the beginning of the program, her score was 57 out of 1,000 points.

“I thought, oh my God, I’m not going to make it,” she shared.

But she found solace and encouragement in the relationships she formed with her instructors and classmates. Mary refused to give up. She studied daily. Every week, she and the class continued to take benchmark skills tests, and her scores skyrocketed. She went on to pass exams needed to achieve five Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) certifications.

“My kids said, ‘You passed five MOS exams? You don’t even know how to turn on your phone sometimes!’” she said, laughing. “It’s so easy to give up – the program is hard. I was doing homework until 2 a.m. Sometimes, I considered dropping out, but the feeling of making it to graduation is just unexplainable.”

Following training graduation from the ACT, Mary and her classmates entered the paid work experience portion of the program. During this time, participants are paid by Opportunity Junction to work as office admins while honing their interviewing skills, improving their resumes, and searching for work.

For Mary, this time brought with it new challenges. That negative voice continued to whisper at the back of her mind. She had concerns that her learning might have been limited to memorizing facts for exams rather than acquiring genuine knowledge. Plus, she watched her classmates snag interviews with potential employers when no one would respond to the applications she had submitted. At one point, a recruiter who had been working with her told her it would be difficult to help her find a job with no degree and a 20-year employment gap.

“During that time, I actually cried a lot,” she admitted. “Even though I passed the MOS, I just didn’t have the experience, and again, I felt like I wasn’t going to make it.”

But an opportunity eventually came her way. She was asked to interview for a position at another nonprofit organization. Despite her nerves she nailed the interview and landed the job as an accountant and grants administrator. Her experience with Opportunity Junction reinforced her understanding of the significance of working in the nonprofit sector.

“I didn’t realize before what kind of impact nonprofits could have on people, but because I got firsthand experience, I know that the work they do can change lives,” she said. “I know it sounds cheesy – to say, oh you guys changed my life – but you know, my kids, my family, and everybody around me has said, I notice the difference in you.”

She became emotional while sharing her experience of feeling shattered after a divorce before embarking on a healing journey to demonstrate to her kids the rewards of hard work and self-belief.

“For the longest time, I was struggling, and I just didn’t know what to do with myself,” she continued. “The most important thing for me is to be self-sufficient, so I don’t have to count on anybody. And I was able to achieve that. I’m still working on my self-esteem, but to know that I work hard, and my kids are proud of me, I think that’s really big. Especially for my kids, too, I kind of showed them that you work hard, and you can achieve it.”

Mary encouraged others to pursue the opportunities offered by Opportunity Junction.

“Life has so many ups and downs, and if somebody like me can make it, anyone can. So don’t give up,” Mary said. “I want to thank OJ and my employer for giving me a chance and changing my life.”