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United Way Blog

The Promise of Opportunity: Sierra’s Story

In Nashville, Tennessee, educational and employment statistics reveal an inequality marked by racial disparities. While 88.7% of black residents over 18 possess high school diplomas, this compares to 94.5% of their white counterparts and 54.2% of their Hispanic peers. The divide further widens after high school, with just 29.6% of black students earning bachelor's degrees compared to 55.3% of white students. Unemployment follows a similar pattern, leaving Hispanic and Black Tennessee residents disadvantaged. 

United Way of Greater Nashville, driven by a commitment to breaking barriers down, has partnered with Music City Construction Careers (MC3) to provide a transformative Apprenticeship Readiness Program. This initiative is not merely a training course but a pathway to success. A robust curriculum encompassing math, industry awareness, health & safety, blueprint reading, and financial literacy is a stepping stone toward the apprenticeship programs in various trades. 

Sierra McCants, a 28-year-old from Detroit who moved to Nashville to help her mother get medical care, represents the face of change and promise. Facing the daily grind of three jobs to make ends meet, Sierra discovered MC3 and decided to embrace the opportunity. She says, "Before Music City Construction Careers, things were tough for me. First I was on unemployment. Then, I hit the ground hard, but I still didn't have a plan. I had three jobs—two restaurants and a gas station. I was killing myself. Every morning I would come home, and I was just so tired. I didn't know what I was going to do long-term." Through a two-week training, followed by dedicated support and mentorship, she entered the local union UA 572's Pipefitting apprenticeship program. She's now on her way to becoming a journey-level pipefitter; a licensed tradesperson who can safely handle installation, maintenance and repair of high- and low- pressure steam heating systems.  

Sierra says she would not trade her experience for anything. "I signed up for the program, and it was a life-changing experience. I met my Union president, and he told me, 'You won't be rich, but you'll be able to afford a house.'" And that's something I never thought would be possible, coming from welfare and Section 8. Nobody in my family ever went to college, but here I was with a path before me." 

The profound impact of this intervention goes beyond Sierra's experience. It is reflected in promising statistics: an average hourly wage increase from $12.29 to $18.90 in the first year and up to $28.85 after completing the apprenticeship. With a 70% job placement rate in 2023 alone, 37 individuals found employment, 31 gained access to healthcare, and 29 transitioned from underemployment to full-time work. 

In collaboration with high schools, community organizations, and social service providers, United Way's SNAP E&T program and MC3's dedication has transcended individual lives, fostering community growth. Sierra's story is not just a tale of personal triumph; it embodies the spirit of a community rising, transcending the limits of systemic inequity. United Way is sowing the seeds of hope and success with its partners, paving the way for a brighter, more equitable future. 

If you want to be part of this transformative journey, connect with your local United Way and explore how you can make a difference.