It took a heat stroke that nearly killed him and a nudge from his wife to get Greg Hale to pursue his dream.
“I’m a spiritual person; God always led me to working with teens,” Hale says. “Even when I was in high school, I knew this is the field I wanted to go into.”
But instead of following his heart, Hale started out working as a traffic officer. At 21, while trying out for the Memphis Police Academy on a sweltering summer day, he suffered a near-fatal heat stroke that had him hospitalized for a week. The heat stroke gave Hale reason to rethink his career choices, and, at his wife’s suggestion, he changed heart and applied for a job in youth counseling at the Youth Villages Bartlett Campus, located in Memphis, Tennessee. Hale found his calling working with youth.
He eventually left Youth Villages to work at a youth development center in Somerville, Tennessee, for nine years and the state of Tennessee’s Child Protection Services for a few more years. He returned to Youth Villages to take on a new role as a YVLifeSet specialist, helping young adults aging out of state care – foster care, juvenile justice programs or residential treatment programs – and young adults who lack family support, make a successful transition into independent adulthood. He found he loved working with older youth.
“There’s this feeling you get when one of your youth gets a job or gets into college,” he says. “And with this job, I get to work with all the youth in YVLifeSet and help them get jobs and pursue their education.”
Now, Hale is the YVLifeSet educational and vocational coordinator for West Tennessee and works with three or four youth daily who are enrolled in Youth Villages’ YVLifeSet program. Most of them are former foster youth or teens close to aging out of foster care. Some have spent time in juvenile justice placements, while others never were in state custody but don’t have family who can support them as they transition into adulthood. Hale’s goal is to help these young people figure out their career goals, determine a suitable career path and either get them enrolled in college or another educational program, help them sign up for a vocational program or find them a suitable job.
“Many of our young people lack confidence that they can succeed,” Hale says. “But most of them need help writing a resume and going out finding a job, interviewing and encouragement to stick with a job.”
Many of the youth Hale works with don’t yet have a resume or know how to create a resume that stands out, how to interview effectively or even dress for an interview. Many lack transportation and, without help, don’t apply at potential employers that are not located in their neighborhoods.
Employers don’t necessarily want to hire a young adult with an uncertain or unstable living situation, a lack of work experience, high school diploma or GED. an incomplete high school education.
Over the years, Hale and other educational and vocational specialists at Youth Villages have built close relationships with a wide variety of employers as well as colleges, GED and vocational training programs that are glad to provide opportunities to former foster youth helped by Youth Villages.
“The support we provide to our youth makes them reliable employees, and there’s an extra level of accountability and support that the employers and programs we work with value,” Hale says.
This has made it easier to place youth and help them achieve their goals.
“Those youth who really want a job or to go to college, we are able to find them jobs or get them enrolled,” he says.
As the number of youth YVLifeSet serves continues to grow, so does the need for finding additional employers. Hale is glad to be the one to help former foster youth find employment and educational opportunities, and help them learn to succeed in the workplace.
“I love this job,” Hale says.
Fifteen years into working with youth, Hale is oddly thankful for the fateful heatstroke that helped him reshape his career path.