Sebrena Pawley is no stranger to adversity. A “self-described” concrete jungle native New Yorker was abandoned by her mother at Mount Sinai Hospital the day she was born, and she was raised in the foster care system.
Now, she worked tirelessly as a passionate champion and advocate for young adults in NYC as the area manager for Eckerd Connects | Workforce Development.
As a youth, Pawley found school easy and was frequently bored. With moving from foster home to foster home, she did not find it necessary to go to classes just to move again. But when she was held back a grade due to skipping class, it was a wake-up call… She was determined not to let it happen again and excelled ahead two grades to graduate at the age of 16.
Still, Sebrena struggled to find consistency and was hunted by her past, feeling angry and alone. It wasn’t until circumstances brought her to a shelter and she began working at the front desk that she found purpose and direction.
“As the young adults came in, I would give them positive words of affirmation, and when I realized I was helping them, something inside of me said, ‘This is it, this is what you’re supposed to do for the rest of your life.’ So that’s when I really found my gift for serving and I’ve been giving that gift away ever since I was 16.”
Pawley worked her way up through numerous jobs in the human services industry looking for a place where she could apply her gift and she found it at Eckerd Connects. She applauds the organization’s work-readiness training program, which teaches young adults the necessary skills to get a job and keep it. But for her, the job training is not the most important part of what she does. What’s crucial, she believes, is developing independent living skills, mental health, and self-worth.
“A lot of them don’t think that their goals are reachable, so I think just encouraging them to visualize what they want to achieve is huge. We reinforce that hard work and persistence are going to pay off, but young adults have to take responsibility for doing what they need to do and be realistic about their challenges… They are resilient, but we have to ensure that they know that they’re worthy first. They need to understand that they can fulfill their dreams.”
Being in the epicenter of the pandemic and overcoming Covid-19 herself, Pawley is now focused on the business of moving forward. She says, while working with young adults remotely will never be the same as connecting face-to-face, in some ways it has made her team more productive. She is looking at what the future holds when Eckerd Connects reopens in NYC, which she acknowledges probably won’t happen for months… Having the virus made her more resolved than ever to serve.
When asked to sum up her journey thus far and the key to overcoming the challenges she has faced, Pawley gave just two words: I persisted.