By Jason Presto, CEO, Boys & Girls Club of the Tri-County Area
We all remember our first jobs. (Mine was as a grocery store stock boy.) This summer, 15 teens experienced the challenge and joy of earning a paycheck as part of the Boys & Girls Club of the Tri-County Area’s new Teens 2 Work program.
At its core, the Teens 2 Work program is designed to match youth in need of job skills with local businesses in need of employees that they are willing to train. It’s a win-win, but it’s also so much more.
When the Club learned that the Green Lake Conference Center (GLCC) had nearly 70 unfilled vacancies in housekeeping, grounds and dining services, a novel idea was born! You take kids who are in need of direction, have few skills and little to no job experience, and you work with them to fill a need in the community. In the end, the business has employees and the teens have gained valued job skills and general life experience.
For the teens involved in the program, this was their first opportunity for real responsibility. They needed to make a commitment of 10 weeks, be punctual and be accountable to their employer. Many were nervous, and I can say that many didn’t enjoy the first couple of weeks. After building a routine, learning the job and coming to terms with their new khaki uniforms, the kids started enjoying it!
“My first day of work, I went to the club with high hopes. The coworkers that trained me were so kind and so patient. The work was easy to do, and I had fun doing it. I was able to have a flexible schedule, which made it much easier to manage my work and home lives. I even made friends I never would have met otherwise. The Teens 2 Work program gave me a chance to redeem myself. Not only in the eyes of others, but in my eyes too. I am so thankful to have met these people, and even more thankful that I got to participate in such a life changing program.” ~Savannah, age 17
The Club’s role in the Teens 2 Work program was not just to identify and recruit the teens but also to prepare them to be successful. Teens were required to go through Career Launch training, a Club program that teaches job readiness and employability skills. They received help completing job applications, obtaining work permits and participating in mock interviews. When it was interview time at GLCC, Club staff purchased nice clothes for those teens that needed an appropriate outfit. The Club also provided rides to/from GLCC three times each day ensuring that transportation was not a barrier between the teens and these opportunities.
The teens’ faces when they got their first paychecks were priceless. We celebrated with them, but also had Club staff work with each one to set up a bank account and create a budget for themselves. I am proud to say that every teen who participated in the program finished the commitment. Although there were times when the Club, as the third party moderator, had to step in and provide appropriate coaching.
“I feel more knowledgeable about the world of work. The money I earned gave me independence and allowed me to spend time doing fun things with friends. I met people from other places including a kid who lived on a farm and a kid from Canada. I was able to learn more about their lives and how they were different from mine. I’m very glad I had the opportunity to be part of the Teens 2 Work program!” ~ Dwayne, age 15
In the end, this has been one of the most impactful, inspiring and promising programs ever run at the Boys & Girls Club of the Tri-County Area. We remain blessed beyond measure to have the support of the Oshkosh Area Community Foundation. Their belief in our mission and our ability to deliver on our programs allows our wonderful team to impact these teens more than they know. The support seeps beyond the individual. It not only satisfies a need for a local community employer but also makes a preemptive impact on the lives of 15 teens, many of whom will soon be adult residents of this or another nearby community. Thank you again to the community foundation for seeing the vision, believing the vision, and supporting the vision.
As a grant funded pilot program that was highly successful, we are now focusing on finding a way to fund the program in 2020 as well as build it out to other businesses and provide opportunities for even more teens in the community.