Shelley Lefebvre’s background is in education: she taught English and History for the seventh and eighth grade for over ten years. In 2015, she moved to Austin. The next year, Shelley’s life fell into a spiral when she went through several serious events, including incarceration.

A criminal record is a large barrier to securing employment and housing, but Shelley did not give up. “My first contact with Workforce Solutions came about in a way that was unfortunate. I had gotten in some trouble and went through a treatment program,” Shelley said. “I was in a steady decline, then a steady progression, step-by-step —rebuilding after the storm.”

In early 2020, while at a sober living center, Shelley met Barbara Ornales of the Austin Area Urban League (AAUL), an affiliate of the National Urban League providing direct services that impact and improve the lives of Central Texans. Barbara spoke to the residents about services offered by AAUL.

Shelley saw an opportunity to overcome her barriers and entered AAUL’s Returning Citizens Advancement Program (RCAP). RCAP recruits and serves formerly incarcerated individuals—returning citizens—who have experienced exclusion and barriers to housing, education, and employment leading to an improved quality of life.

Shelley was working at the time but was laid off when the COVID-19 pandemic struck Austin. While in AAUL’s program, she learned about a new service offered by Workforce Solutions for residents impacted by the pandemic. Shelley had connected with Workforce Solutions in the past and AAUL was connected with them currently—it was a connection that was, in Shelley’s words, “a godsend.” She finally saw hope and possibility through this partnership.

Shelley Lefebvre and Barbara Ornales

Barbara Ornales and Shelley Lefebvre

Staff at the East Career Center assisted Shelley in enrolling in the federal Disaster Relief Temporary Employment (DRTE) program. In 2020, Workforce Solutions began participating in this program, which assists residents who had lost their jobs due to the pandemic. DRTE provides dedicated funds to cities and states to help respond to the pandemic recovery effort. The funds help to offset payroll costs for organizations doing humanitarian work directly related to the pandemic, such as AAUL.

Shelley began working at AAUL temporarily through DRTE. Her background in teaching, lived experiences and drive to help others impressed her colleagues at AAUL, and she was hired as a Case Manager to assist other Central Texans experiencing the same events that Shelley experienced.

Her work focuses on assisting those who are facing personal, professional, and economic challenges by connecting them to services and employment. “I am privileged to serve clients who sit in the chairs I once sat in myself.  I want them to know I understand, and it is my goal to be a light on path that is not easy, but certainly possible,” Shelley said.

Everyone that I have encountered at Workforce Solutions have been very encouraging and the staff at AAUL has created a space for us to thrive. I appreciate all their effort—it’s been a very positive experience for me.

“I am in a satellite office at Clean Investments, an outpatient program that I had to complete myself. All of the steps, hoops and hurdles that one has to go through to rebuild and thrive again can be lessened when the person before them comes back to help the ones coming up after. It is a blessing to walk through those doors each day and truly believe that If I can do it, so can they.  And I didn’t do it alone and they don’t have to either! I am passionate about helping other people who need the services that I needed when I first started,” said Shelley.

Shelley also spends her time building relationships with Second Chance employers to assist her judicially involved clients with gainful employment. RCAP wants to see each client on a career path with a livable wage in a job that has potential for growth.

“We are building bridges today, not burning them down. We are blazing a trail and setting the example for the people behind us,” Shelley said. “We want them have better opportunities for employment, to understand their rights when searching for employment, as well as the responsibility to suit up and show up in a way that shines a positive light on their community.

“It’s a challenging job and can be very demanding, but I am super grateful for all the support, guidance and resources provided to me. Programs like RCAP and DRTE are game changers for many of us,” she said. 

She added, “Everyone that I have encountered at Workforce Solutions have been very encouraging and the staff at AAUL has created a space for us to thrive. I appreciate all their effort—it’s been a very positive experience for me. I think about the Case Managers I had and I strive to listen, partner and encourage as well as they did. 

For Shelley, the events shaping her life in 2020 and 2021 are miraculous: “To me, it’s a miracle. I made choices that changed my life and it takes time to climb out. The beauty and the miracle in that climb is to now be in a position to use that experience to help someone else who will undoubtedly experience many of the same barriers that I faced.”

How WFS Capital Area supports judicially-involved job seekers: We offer assistance to all kinds of job seekers, including returning citizens. Our supports include job training as well as job searching. If you are facing employment barriers due to a criminal history, contact your nearest career center for assistance securing your next job or enrolling in training for an in-demand occupation.

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