Her confidence is beaming now. Upon receiving her diploma, Melea says,
“It felt like a miracle. I was so happy. Happier than I’d been in a long time.”
-- Melea Sije
-- Photo credits: Rajah Bose
Melea Sijer loves working with animals. She discovered her gift when she was just ten years old. She didn’t understand it at the time, but she says she could sense her dog was ill and needed help. She was right, her dog was sick. She now refers to this gift as her own special ability— animals know they can trust her and she in turn can help them. That’s why someday she wants to be a vet tech or own her own business where she can work with animals.
Melea first came to the Arc of Spokane when she was a senior in high school from the School to Work program through the public school system. “I wanted a job so bad,” she said. So, she and her mom started looking for services that could help Melea find the right position, “We picked the Arc because they help a lot of people get a job fast. We called, and they said they’d help me look for a job right away.”
Melea had already racked up volunteer experience working with animals, and soon, she found a job with the help of her employment specialist Herb, which she stayed at for two years. But Melea’s real story begins when she decided she wanted a bigger challenge that would make it easier for her to one day become a vet tech.
Herb, her former employment specialist at the Arc, says that for anyone searching for the right job the process, “is not a one-hundred meter dash, but a cross country race.” For Melea to accomplish her individual long-term job goals, she knew she had to keep pushing ahead. The Arc’s Supported Employment Program works with clients on job skill development, interview practice, resume building and many other practical job searching skills. She took what she learned through the Arc’s Program, and started a new job hunt by first responsibly giving her two-week’s notice to her current employer. She reached out to Herb again for some extra guidance, and decided to apply for a different position and enroll in Spokane Community College’s Career to Employment program. Not only did she get her next job by herself, using what she learned from the Arc, but, she was also accepted into Spokane Community College’s College to Career program.
Melea describes herself as independent and hard working, but even so, Community College was no small feat as she faced challenges in traditional learning environments, “I was worried that the classes would be hard and I wouldn’t be able to keep my grades up. I was beyond nervous,” she said. On top of being nervous about the work, it was hard for her to take tests, and she needed different assistance to be successful.
But Melea doesn’t give up so easily, and her mom encouraged at home to keep trying and ask for help when she needed it. She said she thinks her grandfather’s example of determination and hard work helped her along the way as well. I asked her what she did when her nerves tried to get her to believe she might not succeed; “I did a lot of thinking when I was on campus” she said, she told herself often, “if something happens, I can ask Carly and Jason for help-” referring to the program manager of College to Career, at SCC, Jason Stariwaht and the Transition Coach for their program, Carly Carpenter.
Melea said one of the biggest contributors to her success at SCC was that she had people like Stariwaht and Carpenter on her side, who were willing to make time for her to talk her through challenges. They too, were impressed by her initiative to find tutors for her classes, reach out for help when she needed it, and her ability to get involved in campus life through clubs, volunteering and even developing her own workout routine in addition to completing her coursework. To overcome her shyness, Melea kept busy, worked to made friends and got better at communicating with other students.
The hard work and her brave spirit paid off. Melea made honor roll with a 3.0 GPA and was asked to give the speech at her graduation.
In her speech, she talked about her college experience, the programs, and the help she received from community college staff. She was also able to articulate how she overcame barriers “I talked about… how nervous I was when I started, because when I started, I didn’t think I was going to [graduate]. I was so scared. When I walked on that campus, I didn’t know how to become a college student.”
Her confidence is beaming now. Upon receiving her diploma, Melea said, “It felt like a miracle. I was so happy. Happier than I’d been in a long time.”
For the present, Melea is working as a dog washer and is set to get training as a dog groomer soon. She also just finished an internship with a veterinary clinic where she was able to get hands-on experience, and even assisted in counting heartbeats for a cat during surgery. She may not own a business just yet, but she has worked hard to find employment where she can use her gifts with animals and make a positive impact on those around her. She says her story is important because she wants to inspire others who want to work with animals or even be a vet tech someday.
Her former mentors at SCC saw that Melea stood out from her classmates because she delved into every opportunity available on campus to ensure her own success, even taking classes she thought might make her grow in her new abilities. They asked her to speak at her graduation because she worked so hard and came so far in her educational journey.
Herb, at the Arc of Spokane, says one of Melea’s strengths is that she is willing to reach out for help in addition to putting in the work in to accomplish her goals. He acknowledges how important it is that she stayed true to her special ability to work with animals when considering a job, saying with a laugh, “Melea is the animal whisperer.” Importantly, Melea is an example of what self –advocacy, effective support and hard work can do for a person who knows where he or she wants to go in life.
-- Written by contract writer, Merideth Jeffries