Cherokee Heritage Center Employee Recognized with Oklahoma Youth Alumni Award from Oklahoma Works

Melissa McLawhorn Houston, Oklahoma Labor Commissioner; Sierra Betancourt, Eastern Oklahoma Youth Alumni Award recipient; and Rebecca Sarmiento, U.S. Department of Labor

Published December 6, 2018

TAHLEQUAH, Okla.  — Cherokee Heritage Center employee Sierra Betancourt was recently recognized as the Oklahoma Works 2018 Outstanding Youth Alumni.

Betancourt was honored at the state Capitol last week and had the opportunity to address the Oklahoma House of Representatives and the Governor’s Committee representing Eastern Oklahoma Workforce.

“This award represents such a journey for me, and I am honored for the opportunity to share my story,” Betancourt said. “When I first entered the Oklahoma Works office, I was an unemployed college dropout living in an income-based apartment with a 13-month-old son. I had every intention of turning my situation around but no idea how to start.”

Oklahoma Works is designed to increase the wealth of all Oklahomans through facilitating quality employment for workers and ready availability of highly skilled talent for business and industry. Oklahoma Works’ strategic priorities are coordinated by the Governor’s Council for Workforce and Economic Development.

“The impact this program had on my life is overwhelming. We started with basics such as resume building and vouchers for professional work clothes, but I didn’t realize how much work was being done on the inside of me as well. After interviewing at the Cherokee Heritage Center, I could feel a difference in not only how others saw me, but how I saw myself as well.”

Betancourt was assigned to the Cherokee Heritage Center as a clerical assistant on a three-month trial basis, but it didn’t take her long to prove she had more to offer. A month into her assignment she was asked to step up as the group tours coordinator and was hired on full time when her placement through Oklahoma Works ended.

“Sierra is truly an outstanding employee who goes above and beyond to support our organization. Her dedication and drive are assets we value greatly,” said Charles Gourd, executive director for Cherokee Heritage Center. “We are proud to have partnered with Oklahoma Works to support its mission and couldn’t be more pleased that it resulted in Sierra working here full time supporting our mission to preserve, promote and teach Cherokee history and culture.”

Betancourt currently serves as press liaison for Cherokee Heritage Press and supports the organization as it seeks to publish new works or identify and publish works that provide a better understanding of Cherokee history and culture. She is responsible for reviewing and editing manuscripts, managing artwork for publications, and maintaining effective communication between the governing committee and its subcommittees.

“I put in a lot of work to make this dream a reality, but I would not be where or who I am today if it weren’t for Oklahoma Works. They took time to help build me up and truly invested in my success,” Betancourt said. “I was a shy, soft-spoken introvert who didn’t know how to harness my potential, but today I feel like a strong and capable woman, confident of what my future holds. I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to better myself and become a mom my son can be proud of.”

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