Staff Profiles – Ciara and Nicona

Ciara Calsita

Ciara Calsita joined the PolicyWorks team in 2010, and Nicona MacDonald joined the PolicyWorks team in 2012. Since then, they have been working together with other team members, University faculty, Vocational Rehabilitation professionals, and Workforce Development field staff on various projects centered on Peer Mentoring.

Nicona Keysaw

Both started their work independently as Peer Mentors working miles apart in their respective locations of Southern and Northern California. In July 2014, Ciara and Nicona joined forces when they accepted a shared position as Placement Specialist working with multiple universities piloting a Peer Mentoring component of the “Professional Development and Disability” course offered at University of California Berkeley, San Diego State University, and California State University of Fullerton.

During this time, they oversaw a team of Peer Mentors and conducted regular site visits to present in classrooms about the power, purpose, and the proven success of Peer Mentoring. They met with students one-on-one and supplied a steady stream of internships and part-time vocational opportunities to provide to our students. Working with university faculty to collect data via pre-course and post-course surveys, kept tabs on students’ progress and provided encouragement and support in developing our students’ career readiness. Students reported higher levels of confidence, felt more prepared to enter their chosen career field and were more likely to pursue and obtain internships and employment opportunity that would ultimately help them build their dream career.

In 2016, Ciara and Nicona accepted a position as Program Development Specialist to work collaboratively with PolicyWorks’ partnership with the Workforce Innovation Technical Assistance Center (WINTAC) on the development of a peer mentoring pilot program to be used as a strategy to support the implementation of the WIOA on specific areas of Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS). Ciara and Nicona have customized the curriculum of the peer mentoring course to the individual state needs of several states; this includes Alaska, Florida, Mississippi, and will soon collaborate with Iowa. Each state has applied our peer mentoring program to their state different from the other. Our first state model in Alaska was designed to work in conjunction with their summer youth program and included an additional piece of webinar. In Florida, our peer mentoring curriculum is used to train vendors to become peer mentoring providers. Mississippi’s model will include components not only found in our curriculum but will include information taken from our PMW Coordinator and Mentor Handbooks we developed.

Job-sharing has become the norm for Ciara and Nicona, where it has allowed them to individually pursue their own life and career goals in addition to being a part of the PolicyWorks team. Ciara has been able to pursue higher education and is currently enrolled in her last year of her Vocational Rehabilitation Counseling Program through San Diego State University (SDSU). Additionally, Ciara joined Department of Rehabilitation (DOR) last year as a Graduate Student Assistant (GSA). Nicona has held several positions in addition to her position with PolicyWorks; she previously worked as a Benefits Counselor for DOR and currently works as a Freshman Admissions Reviewer for UC Santa Cruz. Nicona also has the most important role of all as a mother of a 2-year-old boy, with a baby girl coming soon. Both Ciara and Nicona are active in their respective local communities. Ciara serves as a Commissioner for the City of Long Beach’s Citizens Advisory Commission on Disabilities. Nicona is a Committee Member for her local transit district’s Advisory Committee and for Santa Cruz County Commission on Disabilities. Ciara and Nicona’s commitment to their shared position is driven by the first-hand experience on the value of peer mentoring and its impact to change and improve the lives of youth.