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Investing in Youth

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Posted: Wednesday, May 7, 2014 6:32 pm

At the Franklin County Humane Society shelter on Saturday afternoon, staff worker Patrick Generally held tightly to a female Dalmation brought in as a stray while Laura Lay, lead medical staff, conducted an intake exam to find out more about her — her age and health condition.

Generally, St. Clair, smiled as the dog squirmed in his arms, turning her head toward his face as if to give him a kiss.

A couple of years ago, Generally never could have imagined himself caring about animals the way he does today. He’s adopted three pets from the shelter and is thinking about switching his major at Missouri State University in Springfield from computer science to animal science.

“It’s opened my eyes to what’s going on,” said Generally of his work at the shelter. “It’s helped me realize how much I love and care for animals. The more I know, the more I want to help care for them.”

Now 20 years old, Generally began working at the Humane Society shelter through the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) Youth Program, a federally funded program that helps youth ages 16-21 who are facing barriers to employment by placing them in jobs at local nonprofit organizations.

A federal grant funds the youth salaries, so the nonprofit organizations receive free help, and in return the youth get real life work experience.

Eligible youth are those with a documented challenge, such as being a pregnant or parenting teen, being homeless or in foster care, having an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or being very low income, among other things.

“The mission is to assist these participants to be on a more level playing field with peers who don’t have these additional challenges,” explained Mary Kay Berry, WIA youth program coordinator for Franklin County.

The program strives to improve the long-term job prospects of young people by providing basic skills, work readiness skills, occupational training, and citizenship skills.

In addition to placing participants in real life work situations, WIA offers workshops on resume writing, interviewing skills, leadership development and other items.

Generally is one of the WIA’s many success stories. Right now he’s completing his last work session through the WIA program, but he won’t have to look for a new job because he’s already found one. The Humane Society management was so impressed with Generally’s work ethic and skills that they decided to hire him on their own this summer.

This fall, Generally plans to return to Missouri State University, where he already has completed two years of study.

Michael Malone, 20, New Haven, is another WIA success story. Like Generally, he’s now been hired by the nonprofit where they placed him to work — New Haven Middle School and New Haven High School.

A friend told Malone about the WIA, and he was accepted into the youth program during his senior year. He was placed at the middle/high school as a custodial worker, cleaning the building and emptying the trash.

At age 16, Malone struggled in school with a learning disability that affected his ability to read. Now he’s studying graphic art at East Central College and looking for a job in graphic design.

The WIA youth program helped Malone overcome his learning disability by encouraging him to stay in school and giving him the confidence that comes from having a job, along with the skills.

Carol Cooke, Malone’s supervisor at New Haven Middle and High School who has worked with many WIA participants over the years, describes it as a training program.

“We are teaching them how to be good workers,” she said. “It’s a confidence builder and a training issue, helping them learn to succeed.

“I love the program,” Cooke remarked. “I’ve been here a long time, and we’ve had a variety of children, some that we could not help and some that we taught them a trade.”

WIA Office Is in Career Center

The WIA Youth Program has been around for decades under a variety of names. It has been known as WIA since the late 1990s, said Sandy Nappier, WIA youth program coordinator for the Jefferson-Franklin Consortium, which includes Jefferson College and East Central College and which serves as the program operator.

Berry is the youth coordinator for Franklin County. Charline Linhorst, who happens to be a WIA youth program graduate, is the youth coordinator for Jefferson College.

They each have an office inside the Missouri Career Center in their area, which for Berry, is in Washington. Her hours are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, but she’s out of the office quite a bit checking work sites, talking with participants and their supervisors, visiting high schools and colleges, working with special education teachers and guidance counselors to find more youth who could benefit from the WIA program.

It can be a challenge to get the word out about the program, said Nappier, but typically once young people learn of it, they are eager to apply.

Generally said he learned of the WIA program through his sister, who is seven years older. She was part of the program too.

He had applied for 20 or so jobs without getting an offer before learning of WIA and putting in his application.

Young people are typically eager to be part of the program, said Berry, mainly because they need the income.

Nappier agreed that the youth participants are often driven to succeed.

“Many of the participating youth are in high school and balancing the work with their regular school assignments. So they have to really want to do this,” she said.

“Right now their main focus is looking for a job, and jobs are hard to find that will work with school schedules,” said Nappier. “What’s great about our partnerships with various employers is that they will work around those school schedules. They are very flexible with these participants.”

Work for Nonprofits

The only work sites that are eligible to be part of the program are nonprofit organizations, and many of them are excited to accept the WIA youth, especially since their paychecks are provided by the federal WIA grant.

“Sometimes they start calling us asking when our next work session will begin,” said Berry. “They need as much help as they can get.”

Work expected of the youth participant varies, depending on the nonprofit. At Exceptional Equestrians, for example, the youth feed horses and do basic farm work.

At East Central College and local Chamber offices, the youth do clerical work. At the Humane Society, they walk dogs, care for cats, give them baths. At city offices, they may be cutting grass.

Each August, some WIA youth help the Washington Area Chamber of Commerce with the Washington Town and Country Fair. Often they will work the gates, selling and taking tickets.

“We do try, if we can, to assign (the youth participants) to a place where they have an interest,” said Berry.

The ultimate goal, Nappier explained, is for the youth participants to gain experience where they otherwise might not have had a chance so they can get a job on their own or move on to college.

“It’s about developing those soft skills, things like getting to work on time, working with a supervisor, those things that are transferable to any job throughout their life,” said Nappier.

Linhorst, who graduated from the WIA program in 2008 and went on to earn both bachelor’s and master’s degrees, calls it “self-sufficient employment.”

Work sessions run between eight to 12 weeks, depending on when funding is approved, and in the down time between sessions is when the WIA offers workshops on topics like resume writing and interview skills.

Youth participants may be in the WIA program for two or three years, and during that time they are receiving ongoing case management services, support, guidance, career exploration, said Nappier.

After a youth participant exits the WIA program, the youth coordinators keep in touch for up to 12 months.

Berry and Linhorst said they will often hear from participants as they hit milestones or land jobs on their own.

National Career Readiness Certificate

Another employment credential the WIA program helps youth attain is the National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC), which “demonstrates achievement and a certain level of workplace employability skills in Applied Mathematics, and Locating Information, and Reading for Information.”

The certificate is earned by taking ACT WorkKeys tests that “measure real world skills that employers believe are critical to job success.” Test questions are based on situations in the everyday work world.

“It’s something they can put on their resume, and around here, it’s something employers are really recognizing,” said Berry. “Some of them are requiring it.”

Youth are welcome to join the WIA program at any time. While there may not be jobs available at any given time, they can take advantage of the other services, said Nappier.

This summer WIA will offer a leadership academy in partnership with Jefferson-Franklin Community Action Committee.

For more information on the WIA youth program in Franklin County, people can visit www.jeff-frankjobs.com.

Individuals can print off an application, but they are encouraged to call Berry to go over it so she can explain the eligibility process.

It’s best to call and make an appointment, 636-239-6703, extension 253.

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