Anita Lewis: The mentor

 

BY INDHIRA SUERO ACOSTA, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG – Most of Anita Lewis’ clients feel that she often sounds like their mother. Of course, there’s a reason for it. This woman, with a broad smile and bright eyes, provides guidance and advice to those in need.

Thanks to her job as an employment specialist at the Pinellas County Urban League, she works with individuals who are hard to hire. They consist of ex-offenders, domestic violence victims, substance abusers and the homeless.

“I have met individuals, male and female, that have been in prison [for] 10 years, 20 years. My position is [to help them find out] where they are now and what I can do to transform them,” Lewis said.

She strives to get to know the person and gain their trust. In her job, it’s all about building healthy relationships.

Anita Lewis, featured

The most challenging aspect of her job is the duties she performs every week with the women at Community Action Stops Abuse (CASA), the official domestic violence center based in Pinellas County. She meets with these women at the shelter and helps them get back into the job market.

One such client was Beth, who was once a county commissioner, school board member and a lobbyist in Washington, D.C. In her former life, she lived in a three bedroom, three bathroom home and drove a BMW, but all that changed.

“Domestic violence transcends all socio-economic boundaries,” said Beth. “It leaves you stripped of your financial well-being, your possessions, your dignity.”

With encouragement from Lewis and host of other services, she was slowing able to get back on her feet.

Empowerment changes lives

A Jacksonville transplant, Lewis tries very hard to empower individuals.

“I do believe in empowerment and that’s why I teach the employability class, and it starts with the job search. [Then we determine] what kind of skills you have, then we go into resume writing, interviewing, retention, soft skills and hard skills,” she said.

So what are soft and hard skills?

In the soft skills area, she helps her clients communicate and interact effectively, develop time management skills, teach problem-solving abilities and how to develop a work ethic, to name a few. While hard skills consist of teachable abilities that can be defined and measured such as typing, writing, math, reading and the ability to use software programs.

Lewis is a big proponent of education. Whether a person has a prison record, a displaced homemaker or fleeing an abusive relationship, they must develop marketable skills so that they can compete in the job market. But sometimes a helping hand is needed.

“I have enrolled individuals at one of the schools and I’ve gone myself with them to take some basic computer classes. The biggest thing is that they need someone and want to know that someone is there,” she said.

Lewis worked in both business and education fields before working in the career services area. She was the only African American at the beginning of her career that worked for Kellogg’s in the state of Florida. She also worked for Tech Data, a computer reseller, where she was the only black woman working in the technical training area.

“I’ve been in a lot of situations where I was the only African American,” the mentor said. “What you do is that you work hard and learn that you have to do twice as good.”

She often needs, when working with women, to tear their fears down and let them know that they can achieve their goals. She tries to show them that their story could be the same than hers.

“I had two jobs, I had no jobs; it’s just that my story is different now. I always used my life experiences to break everything down,” she said. “So many people have cried at our talks. Some people I have touched some buttons that they’re not ready, so they don’t come back.”

As for black women, Lewis feels that they need to realize that they are achievers. They have to believe in themselves and know that nothing can stop them.

This story is part of a 50-article series honoring black women in the Tampa Bay area.

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