Making something from nothing: the story of Tyisha Bates

“I went in there and I said ‘I don’t want to renew it. Put me in a work program. I’m ready to go back to work,’” she said.

Tyisha Bates (right) and her mentor Amber Key (left).

A survivor of domestic abuse, things were never easy for South Philly resident Tyisha Bates.

“I was broken,” she said about her physical condition in the wake of her abuse, which started in 2000. “My ribs were broken. All my teeth were gone.”

The following year, she was sent to the hospital because of it, and things didn’t get any easier when the doctor told her she was pregnant.

“I initially wasn’t ready for all that,” she said, “but at the same time I was kind of dealing with the tragedy so it was hard raising him. But I did it.”

Things were up and down for Bates throughout the next decade or so. In 2012, things really started to get bad.

“My depression became so so deep to when I actually tried to take my own life,” she said. “And then it’s just like back and into therapy and medications, trying to find that weight to come up out of that situation, but it was hard. I couldn’t find my way.”

She was unemployed and lived off welfare and child support from 2012 to 2017. In 2017, she decided she needed a change. Because of a diagnosed mental condition, she had received an exemption from welfare for having to enter a work ready program. As a result, she was entitled to cash benefits. In October 2017, she could have renewed the exemption, but decided against it.

“I went in there and I said ‘I don’t want to renew it. Put me in a work program. I’m ready to go back to work,’” she said.

From there, Bates was connected with CareerLink, part of the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry’s initiative to connect residents with good-paying, family-supporting jobs.

From there, she was connected with Amber Key, lead instructor at CareerLink Suburban Station, m she had a deep and engaging conversation with after one of Key’s workshops.

“I think one of the things I said was that you don’t have to look like what you’ve been through,” Key said of her conversation with Bates. “And that you don’t have to appear as if you’re broken. Sometimes that happens. That might sound a little superficial, but the thought behind that was that when you feel better about yourself and when you look better you feel better and when you feel better you perform better.”

Bates took that to heart. The very next day, she was “dressed to the nines,” as Key put it.

“It was like those clothes were sitting in her house waiting for her to put on,” she said. “That makeup was just ready for her.”

From then on, there was a difference in Bates, according to Key. She started to take on roles and tasks she hadn’t before. She “took ownership” over her life and started putting herself in positions to go to the next level. But it involved much more than simply dressing well. During her time at CareerLink, Bates did three internships. The first two were directly with CareerLink, the first in job development and the second as an instructor. Her third internship was with JEVS Human Services, the company that operates CareerLink. There she interned as a receptionist at JEVS headquarters on Walnut Street. While she interned, she searched for jobs.

“I want to be honest, Tyisha didn’t find a job like that,” said Key. “I don’t think that she was necessarily doing anything wrong. It wasn’t easy to find her employment, but I also think that it speaks to her tenacity and motivation and endurance to keep on going because there was plenty of times where I know she was like ‘OK, I’m done with this interning thing. I want to move on. I want to get a job.’ It didn’t come fast, but she was still doing what she needed to do every single day.”

She eventually found a job in April with a company called Logistics, but only stayed there for a month until she found a better job at Community Behavioral Health, a not-for-profit 501c (3) corporation contracted by the City of Philadelphia to provide mental health and substance abuse services for Philadelphia County Medicaid recipients.

Earlier this month, Bates was the recipient of the Strictly Business Award, given by JEVS to honor some of the best success stories to come out of its program. The week prior, she was a recipient of the Phoenix Award given by Harambe Social Services. That award is given to survivors of domestic abuse and people who advocate against it.

Now that Bates is back on her feet, she’s proud of what she’s become. Not only for herself, but for her three boys: Khaleeq, 17; Khaseer, 10; and Alameen, 5.

“They all got their different ways of expressing their appreciation,” Bates said.

What advice does she have for others who are in the same position Bates used to be?

“Don’t give up on life and don’t give up on hope,” she said. “My quote is ‘wake up and speak up.’ Once you do that, it’s a whole different journey for you. Find your voice. Don’t be silent anymore.”