U.S. Marine Corps veteran Yolanda Lazo puts great weight in her faith and her dreams. Currently serving as an executive assistant with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), she took the time to reflect on her career journey that led her to D.C. and CBP’s Office of Chief Counsel (OCC).
Her favorite poem reads, “Give life a chance, to live every day. Give hope a chance, to believe while you pray. Give faith a chance, to make dreams a reality.” After separating from the Marine Corps and becoming a full-time student in pursuit of a psychology degree, she did just that. However, she said, “Necessity forced me to enter the workforce in a professional role, putting my degree on hold.”
Following Lazo’s successful career trajectory with the federal government, she decided to leave after becoming pregnant with her second child. Many thought she would regret the decision. “I had my doubts as well; however, those doubts quickly vanished. I had my first daughter while serving on active duty. The memory of the heartbreak of not being able to enjoy the whole experience of her birth, especially those precious first years of my oldest daughter’s life, made the decision to depart an easy one.”
During this time, Lazo finished her degree in Applied Behavioral Science in 2020 just as the COVID-19 pandemic set in. Graduating and entering the job market in such uncertain times would prove challenging. Her exhaustive job search resulted in no leads and after experiencing “month after month of nothing, my confidence took a shot, and I lost hope,” she recalled.
She sought assistance from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Veterans Readiness and Employment (VR&E) program, a national program for veterans with at least 20% service-connected disabilities to aid in achieving job readiness as they overcome the obstacles their disabilities place in their paths to employment. “VR&E helped me further refine my transferable skills, education and interest but most importantly, enabled me to identify a clear career path and direction to pursue,” said Lazo.
“I received a call one day from my VR&E counselor advising me that she had connected with Jeff Jack, the national Veterans Employment Program Manager (VEPM) for CBP, she recalled, “Mr. Jack described a potential path to employment utilizing CBP’s collaboration with the VR&E, Non-Paid Work Experience (NPWE) internship program.”
NPWE afforded her the chance to demonstrate skills and gain others over a 12-month internship at no cost to CBP. Lazo and other interns in the program are paid by the VA and they are granted the opportunity to transition into permanent non-law enforcement CBP positions. Jack proudly asserts CBP’s 99% hire rate in using the NPWE to place veterans from the VR&E program nationally since implementing the program in Fiscal Year (FY) 2014.
Lazo started with CBP’s Office of Human Resource Management for her 12-month internship with great hope of being selected for permanent hire. “I was elated and finally felt that I had found a match that aligned with my career goals, quickly immersing myself into CBP’s diverse structures and unique law enforcement culture,” said Lazo.
While there were no permanent positions available at the end of her internship, during a port tour, Lazo was able to connect with Jack’s branch chief within the National Recruitment Division, Laura Szadvari. “I told her I was excited to be at a port tour but that my time at CBP was sadly almost over,” said Lazo. Szadvari quickly reached out to Jack after learning of her NPWE participation and had her resume circulated throughout his network of CBP contacts. Jack was “confident” he would be able to find a home for her in CBP. Despite his confidence, she recalled, “I was a nervous wreck thinking no one would hire me. That is when I had to again remember the mantra of ‘believing while I prayed, doing the work by faith, in making my career dreams a reality.’”
Thanks to their advocacy, she received an offer from CBP OCC for an executive assistant position and was hired during the last few days of her internship. To learn more about how you can leverage CBP’s collaboration with the VA NPWE internship program, please reach out to Jeffrey Jack via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.