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Letting Her Light Shine: Brenda’s Apprenticeship Story

Today Philadelphia native Brenda Bowens will tell you she feels empowered. She is winning at life, and helping others be winners, too − but she had to overcome many obstacles along the way.

Without a high school diploma, Brenda held odd jobs for many years and experienced periods of unemployment. 

In 2013, she learned about community classes provided by the District 1199C Training & Upgrading Fund, a participant in the U.S. Department of Labor’s Ready to Work Partnership initiative, which helps long-term unemployed Americans find work.

Brenda Bowens

Brenda committed herself to taking as many classes as she could to learn new skills and brush up on others. She even earned her high school diploma at the age of 40 in 2014.

It was also at 1199C where she saw a flyer for a paid apprenticeship with Philadelphia FIGHT, a health services organization for people living with HIV/AIDS, and those at high risk. After passing an intensive interview process, Brenda was selected as a community health worker apprentice with FIGHT in January 2015.

During the first four months she completed many days of training and shadowed case managers. Then for the next nine months she assisted with the Y-HEP program, which offers a variety of holistic services and support to low-income youth ages 13-24. Brenda was able to do “everything,” including mentoring youth, educating them about resources, cooking meals, and sometimes just giving hugs during tough times.

The empowerment Brenda received from her supervisor, Danica Moore, and other managers at FIGHT, was critical to her success as an apprentice. “Danica always told me to let my light shine,” said Brenda. “She encouraged and supported me however I needed her, and reminded me about the importance of self-care.” Her current supervisor, Assata Thomas, would remind her that she was “already enough” during times of self-doubt.

In January 2016, Brenda completed the apprenticeship and was promoted to a full-time position, which came with a raise. Today she is employed with FIGHT’s Institute for Community Justice as an assistant case manager, helping people transition back into the community after imprisonment.

“I know some of the barriers I had and that helps me identify and relate to my clients. I use my journey to encourage them and let them know there is a way out and they can be winners,” she said.

In some ways, her journey is just beginning: She will become a first-time homeowner this summer and plans to begin attending college in January to earn a bachelor’s degree in either human resources or social work.

Apprenticeship can work for everyone, no matter your age or background. On-the-job training opportunities can be found in many different fields. Learn more at

Joanna Hawkins is the deputy director of public affairs for the department in Philadelphia. 



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We are so proud of Brenda and her many accomplishments. We also thank DOL for the incredible support they provide on this project.

Great job Brenda! You are an inspiration to women everywhere. Be a lifelong learner and find joy in the people around you. I earned my Bachelor's Degree at age 45 and my MBA at age 47. It's never too late!

Where are the apprenticeship in office manager in Baltimore, Md. and how do you contact and whom to contact?

Hi Karl, here is contact info:

Brenda ,
Looking at the US Department of Labor Blog it impresses me to read of your come from behind story on rising above your originally not having a high school diploma , odd jobs and periodic unemployment. It appears that your turning point was when you saw flier for a paid apprenticeship while at 1199C with Philadelphias` FIGHT.. I would say that being a community health worker is a step up from your prior predicament and getting your hghschool diploma was an added plus.I never heard or even knew that Congratulations on those personal victories ! It must have been the programs and
the personal support that made the difference for you. And then the apprenticeship made a world of difference as well. It`s amazing what you were able to do with just a high school diploma ! Have you ever given thought on being on The Tavis Smiley show ? As one Black person to another you may want to watch it if it doesn`t interfere with your sleep or job
performance. And you`re going back to school too and about to be a home owner . I`m blown away by that .You
definitely have come a long way from where you were.
Signed ,
Keith P.Cooper -Claims Clerk - US Department of Labor /Workers Compensation - New York

As of August 4th Iam now a home owner, my next goal is to complete what I started .... My bacherlors degree!!!!!!!
Thanks to everyone who bring light into other people life.