Saying Goodbye

September 05, 2017

You could say Jessica Tavares is a pillar of MassCOSH. Working with Teens Lead at Work (TL@W), MassCOSH's teen worker program since 2011, no one, including TL@W’s current staff, has been involved with the program for as long. Now, before embarking on starting her career with the Boston Public School district, Jessica is making sure her knowledge of old traditions and practices from three supervisors and six AmeriCorps fellows do not leave MassCOSH with her.

As a shy school sophomore, Jessica started out as a TL@W peer leader and advanced the following year to a senior peer leader and youth representative for the MassCOSH board. Initially, she did not like leading trainings for other youth groups and did not expect that the job would entail so much public speaking.

“Without TL@W, speaking in front of people my age in big groups wouldn’t have been something I would have done otherwise,” Tavares recalled.

Yet just within a few years, Jessica would co-host MassCOSH’s annual Celebrate the Movement and speak at other rallies and events. After her experiences organizing annual three-day conferences, participating in political actions, and later leading the TL@W program as a college intern, Jessica no longer has any anxiety while speaking.

“I didn’t know it at first, but TL@W was developing skills in me I didn’t know I had. They didn’t see me as just some young kid, but as a worker as capable as any other,” she says. “As training 50 people my age changed to 500 over the years, it just became second nature to know how to speak to and organize young workers.”

In her freshman year at Wheelock College, she remained on the MassCOSH board, serving as its Secretary. Being one of the youngest members gave Jessica “a sense of pride” while also helping to create an impressive resume. Aside from the welcoming family atmosphere and the challenging yet rewarding work, Jessica stayed involved with the program that had taught her so much.

“I believe in MassCOSH’s mission,” she says. “I am treated as an equal, even though I am not as experienced. MassCOSH taught me how to better manage my time. I also have the ability to sit through long meetings, take notes, report back, and understand what was being spoken. Having real life experiences helped me with my courses because I was able to apply what I was learning in the text books.”

Unlike typical classroom learning, Jessica gained knowledge by leading trainings, talking to activists at the height of the Occupy Boston movement, and even by listening to President Obama speak in Boston. Not many people, especially youth, get to have these experiences and Jessica finds these moments “you’ve never done or thought about” as some of the most memorable parts of the program.

During her final summer with MassCOSH, Jessica facilitated and observed her peer leaders grow in “public speaking, confidence, openness, ability to work with a variety of personalities, standing up for themselves, and learning about their rights.” She also helped the workshop training-oriented program expand to include broader youth development, incorporating resume building, social justice, and college and career exposure for its young workers.

Of the many changes, Jessica believes “connecting with other programs so they can be youth-friendly” is an important ongoing goal for TL@W. “I always want the peer leaders to know that there are adults in their life, that is not family, who will care for them and their wellbeing. There are a lot of ageists in the world, but at TL@W we try to treat them as equals as much as we can.”

This is where Jessica wants to be able to contribute as an alumnus and as a MassCOSH member since it’s about “where you come from, giving back to the program, and volunteers who can lead workshops based on their professional experience.” Although Jessica will no longer be directly involved with TL@W, there is no doubt that the skills, memories, and relationships she built at MassCOSH will keep her near as she moves on to work with and empower the youth of our nation.