‘If we can help one kid figure it out, that’s good’: Cedar Rapids nonprofit wants to help young adults as they enter the workforce

Jordan Sellergren/Little VIllage

The saying “early bird gets the worm” serves as the namesake for Early Bird CR, a nonprofit with a mission of helping young adults figure out what career to pursue, gain experience and make adulting a little less daunting.

Founder and entrepreneur Sabrina Collins-Atkinson was motivated to start Early Bird CR after talking with parents and friends about the lack of programs in the community focused on assisting young adults as they navigate the workforce.

“We are trying to be the people we needed when we were younger — to be that shoulder,” she said. “If kids need extra help, we are not here to judge. We are here to listen, and I feel like that’s an important thing that every community member should do.”

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Collins-Atkinson — the owner of Tails & Feathers Playcare, a pet-sitting and dog-walking business in Cedar Rapids — reflected on how to prepare the next generation for when the unexpected happens.

“I thought, ‘how many people are out there like me that need this?’ or ‘Maybe we should prepare the next generation for when recessions hit or when pandemics hit,’” Collins-Atkinson said. “How can we work around that and still maintain a healthy income and a healthy job?”

Collins-Atkinson grew up in Cedar Rapids and was a Camp Fire Girl growing up, which she said taught her the value of volunteering and giving back to her community. She’d like to provide young adults with similar opportunities to gain skills and see their goals through.

“We want [Early Bird] to give them the confidence that they can trust themselves in knowing what they know what they want to do,” Collins-Atkinson said. “This would give them more flexibility with testing out careers or volunteering with nonprofits that they want to work with someday.”

Early Bird CR will provide several programs to help teenagers and young adults explore their interests and potential career paths. The programs are designed for individuals between the ages of 14 and 21.

The job shadow program will give students a look into various trade careers by partnering with local business owners and unions, including Laborer’s Local 43 and Built by Pros.

Early Bird will also help individuals set up volunteer opportunities with local nonprofits and organizations, potentially turning the opportunity into a career. Some of the nonprofits Early Bird is partnering with include Trees Forever, Matthew 25 and Horizons.

“We want everyone and anyone to come in because I feel it is important to give a wide range of what Iowa City and Cedar Rapids have to offer,” Collins-Atkinson said. “We have such great communities and want kids to see that and be able to contribute.”

Through the interview and resume program, young adults can receive help on building a solid resume, writing a cover letter and participating in a mock interview.

Individuals will also be able to take courses that are not usually taught in a traditional school curriculum, such as how to buy a house, create a budget and set up a bank account.

“If we can help one kid figure it out, that’s good,” Collins-Atkinson said.

Collins-Atkinson wants Early Bird to be a place where the older and younger generations come together and learn from each other, she said.

Be the person you needed when you were younger. We’re looking for businesses and nonprofits that would like to partner…

Posted by Early Bird CR on Saturday, April 24, 2021

When asked about what success would look like for Early Bird within the next year, Collins-Atkin said it is about making people feel prepared to enter the workforce.

“Success for me would be helping as many kids as we can, making sure that they are as comfortable going into the workforce as they can be,” Collins-Atkinson said. “I know that it’s hard when you’re graduating high school. It’s a lot that gets handed to you and I think it’s important to understand that.”

The nonprofit is searching for a central location and hopes to begin launching its programs in June, Collins-Atkinson said. She added that volunteering opportunities, hearing from guest speakers and job shadowing will be the first programs available.

“Our hope is to find a location where we can launch more of our programs,” Collins-Atkinson said. “We’re looking for a space in NewBo, Czech Village and the downtown area.”

Early Bird is also looking for board members and volunteers who have a broad background and want to help students with interviews and entrepreneurship, as well as contribute to various volunteer projects.

Volunteers, parents or young adults who are interested in getting involved can contact Early Bird CR through its website or Facebook page.

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