Unexpected Rewards are the Best Rewards

Tiffani Cooper

Tiffani Cooper is being honored as a Youth Jobs+ Champion of Change.

My advice to the kids in my neighborhood? If you don’t want to be broke, stop buying Jordan’s and start buying education. And, if you set goals for yourself and you work hard to reach them, you might receive some unexpected rewards along the way.

One day, I want to own a hotel; this has been my dream for a long time. When I began my freshman year of high school at the National Academy Foundation School in the hospitality and tourism track, I set my sights on graduating within four years and doing the best I could. Nothing in my life so far has made me feel as proud as I did at my graduation ceremony, knowing I had accomplished my goal. And when it was announced that I was ranked sixth in my class, with a grade point average of 3.1, that was one of those unexpected rewards – icing on the cake.

Straight from high school, I jumped on the non-stop education train. In May I will graduate from Baltimore City Community College with an associate’s degree in general studies. Next fall, I plan to study hospitality management at Morgan State University.

I am extremely fortunate to live in Baltimore City, Maryland, where there is an incredible youth summer jobs program operated by the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development. The program – YouthWorks – places young people between the ages of 14 and 21 in six-week summer work experiences in a variety of industries throughout the city.

Every summer for the past six years, since I was 14 years old, I have held a job through YouthWorks. I have been a camp counselor and have worked for a government agency, foodservice company, hospital, and this summer, a college. I have learned how to conduct myself in the workplace – the importance of getting to work on time, communicating well with the people I work with and report to, and taking initiative.

Most importantly, I think, is that no matter where I go in life or what job I have, thanks to my YouthWorks experiences I will be able to adapt to new situations, interact with many different types of people, and see things from other people’s perspectives. I know that these skills will serve me well as I continue to work toward my goal of becoming a hotel owner.

They certainly helped me this summer in my position with YouthWorks at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). I worked in the facilities department and my supervisor, Margaret Newton, told me that I “stood out from the crowd.” I think my bright orange hair might have had something to do with that, but she said it was because of my work ethic. At the end of the summer, I was one of two YouthWorks participants hired to stay on at MICA full-time. I am proud that, again, I was able to accomplish something that I set out to do.

I am incredibly grateful for the opportunities I have had through YouthWorks, and where these experiences have led me so far. The fact that they led me here to the White House as a Champion of Change is an unexpected reward for which I feel honored, to say the least. It might even be rainbow sprinkles on top of the icing on the cake.

Tiffani is a student at Baltimore City Community College (BCCC) and works full-time at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) while attending school.

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