In February Suzanne Onodera joined the team at Historic Ithaca as the Significant Elements Work Preserve Education and Outreach Coordinator. As a Significant Elements volunteer for the past two years, Suzanne was able to jump right in to her daily duties supervising the work of participants in the Work Preserve program. She worked directly with former coordinator Karen Coleman and saw the success of Work Preserve apprentices who transitioned to employment.
“I’m super honored to be part of a non-profit that shares my respect for the history of Ithaca and helps provide pathways for employment for young people and a safe place for youth to find self-confidence, dignity, and consistency in their lives,” says Suzanne.
Suzanne feels that the crux of her job is training people who are at a crossroads in their lives and helping them learn self-respect and self-reliance. That work begins with setting a good example by doing the hands-on work alongside Work Preserve participants. At the store you’re likely to see Suzanne sweeping floors, scrubbing toilets, shoveling snow, and tackling a host of other store duties with her team members. Suzanne usually starts planning the day’s activities the night before, thinking about where each apprentice is in their journey and what they need. She sets daily tasks and gives them a way to record their daily accomplishments, instilling a sense of pride in their work.
Suzanne makes it a point to assign apprentices time to work with other Significant Elements staff members to learn all aspects of store management. Robert Rector is a great resource for the participants to learn front-of-store tasks and research the history of items sold in the store. Work Preserve Warehousing and Traditional Skills Trainer Peter Walz works one-on-one with participants to teach them carpentry and familiarize them with tools and materials. The Work Preserve apprentices, Suzanne notices, respond to this work because they see immediate results. Suzanne also assigns participants opportunities to go on donation pick-ups with Peter or Significant Elements and Work Preserve Job Training Manager Sara Johnson. “Working with a great group of people makes the day so much better. That was a huge plus to coming on board” at Historic Ithaca, notes Suzanne.
Suzanne ascribes her passion for helping young people to her early work experience. At 16, she started designing flyers for music promoters in Berkeley, California, and discovered a deeply ingrained work ethic and the sense that a job could be fun and rewarding. While in college she worked with underserved youth in Oakland, which triggered her interest in community service. Later she taught art to rural children in Oregon and Maine and mentored adults and senior citizens in art and art history. A video-game designer for 13 years, Suzanne learned the art of working in a fast-paced, intensely creative environment and experienced the satisfaction of working on a team and seeing years-long projects come to fruition. Most recently at the Constance Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts as assistant to the executive director, Suzanne aided artists and writers who were at pivotal points in their careers find residency opportunities. Her work at Historic Ithaca brings her full circle back to work that is community-focused and hands-on and in which she can make a positive difference in the lives of young people.
Funding for Work Preserve has been provided by the City of Ithaca Community Development Block Grant program, Park Foundation, Bank of America Foundation, Community Foundation of Tompkins County, and Social Ventures.