Precious Wright, 25, may be as young as the women she’s advising, but her words carry an authority beyond her years.
Wright, the program coordinator for WILL (Women Invested in Learning & Livelihoods) at the Youth Job Center of Evanston, was once a DCFS ward of the state. Three foster homes, one diploma from Walter Payton College Prep and another from Northwestern University, and Wright is a force to be reckoned with.
“Before I found WILL, I was going to quit my job,” says Soktheary Nak, 25, of Evanston, as her two daughters, ages 4 and 2, clamor around Wright at the Youth Job Center’s building on Church Street.
The girls were in day care programs that cost more than Nak was bringing home in her paycheck.
Enter Wright, who helped Nak navigate the maze that would get her subsidized day care. In the interim, Wright called on friends to babysit, did some babysitting herself, and voila: “She really turned things around for me,” Nak says.
Now employed at Rimland Center for Autistic Adults in Evanston, Nak spends her days teaching classes to autistic adults on everything from assembly work to personal hygiene, while her daughters are happily enrolled in day care.
The daughter of a Cambodia immigrant who arrived in 1990 as a refugee, Nak has hopes of one day becoming a WILL mentor herself. Meanwhile, she’s under the wing of a female professional business mentor who discusses everything from family to work to raising kids with Nak on a quarterly basis.
Wright sees her role as helping the women in WILL, ages 18 to 25, overcome the daily challenges that can derail their career, and their life, while showing them the bigger picture of career advancement.
“It’s not as simple as getting a job,” Wright says. “It’s keeping a job once you have it. If your kids are sick, and you use all your PTO days—if you even have PTO days—or if you don’t have money for a bus pass, those things can derail you.”
Wright says the program’s goal is to uplift the 25 women. Although the 18-month program is brief, Wright hopes to make a big impact.
WILL certainly has impacted Nak, who says that next on her list of goals is learning how to drive. As an immigrant, Nak was not a U.S. citizen during high school and wasn’t eligible for driver’s education. Now that she’s gained citizenship status, she hopes to be behind the wheel as a student soon.
“Everything is lining up, and it’s all up from here,” Nak smiles.
On April 28, the Youth Job Center Annual Gala will transform the Great Hall in Chicago’s historic Union Station. Funds raised will support programs like WILL.
For tickets: youthjobcenter.org