Summer’s over, and it’s back to school for the City of Meriden! As students return to the classroom, some are bringing with them a valuable addition to their resumes: work experience.
For the third consecutive year, the Liberty Bank Foundation awarded the City of Meriden Youth Services Division a $5,000 grant to support the Summer Youth Employment program. This competitive program gives Meriden’s youth a chance to gain experience in the working world by assigning them a job with a local organization for two or three weeks. The 2016 program enabled 103 youth employees, ages 14-18, to get a taste of what comes after high school and college, exposing them to real-life situations and hands-on job training, while developing their communication and social skills.
On a recent visit to learn more about the Summer Employment program, foundation staff sat down with Denise Keating, Director of Youth Services, who has been running this program for over 20 years. She explained the competitive process to get into this program, noting that students are made aware of the program in all of the Meriden schools. On one designated day, students are able to visit the town office to pick up an application in person. “The line of students waiting to pick up an application is incredible…we have to cut off the line at some point, there are that many kids who want to participate in this program!” said Keating.
“The line of students waiting to pick up an application is unbelievable…we have to cut off the line at some point, there are THAT many kids who want to participate in this program!”
Interviews are conducted with each applicant to determine if they are eligible and ready for the commitment of a summer job. Jobs are matched by choice, depending on what the student worker is comfortable doing. There are 22 different work sites, including the Bradley Home and the Skills Camp, Inc. at Venture Academy, which are two of the sites staff was able to visit.
At the Bradley Home on Colony Street, youth employees Danielle Davis and Keily Aguilar were praised by residents and staff as being “the best thing that happened this summer.” Danielle is a graduate of Platt High School who is attending Middlesex Community College in the fall to work towards her accounting degree. Her job was working in the weaving room, organizing supplies and assisting residents with their projects.
Keily Aguilar gave a tour of the kitchen, where she was responsible for stocking, inventory, cleaning, and assisting residents during meals. Keily is a sophomore at Maloney High School and is saving her paychecks from the Summer Employment Program for a trip to Mexico to visit her grandparents. Both Danielle and Keily were offered part-time positions at the Bradley Home after the program ended.
On the way to visit Skills Camp, Inc., April Pinto, a Youth Services Worker for the City of Meriden, explained how students work directly with their employers throughout the summer. “They need to dress appropriately, be on time, clock in, complete their tasks, and report back to us with their time cards and evaluations,” said Pinto. “Most of the kids use the money they earned for back to school clothes, supplies, or to help their parents, and they usually plan to save some of it for themselves.” She noted that before starting work, the youth employees attend an orientation, where they are given a badge to identify themselves and a t-shirt to wear at work.
Justin Mitchell, the Director of Skills Camp, Inc. at Venture Academy, praised the efforts of three summer youth employees he had on his staff. “I was able to add a drug and alcohol workshop, cooking classes, and a dentist visit during camp. I’m able to dictate what needs to be done, and with their help, we can offer more to the campers.”
“I was able to add a drug and alcohol workshop, cooking classes, and a dentist visit during camp…with their help, we can offer more to the campers.”
Justin added that this was his first summer working with youth employees. He’s looking forward to next year’s camp – knowing he will have the staff to execute new programs.
Manasia Bennett, Darisa Bonilla, and Sunseraya Mitchell worked alongside the children attending the Skills Camp, ages 6-14 years old. Darisa gave a tour of the facility and went through a typical day’s schedule with the kids. “With the experience I’m gaining with campers during the summer, it’s making me want to go to school to be a pediatrician or a teacher,” she said.
“With the experience I’m gaining with campers during the summer, it’s making me want to go to school to be a pediatrician or a teacher.”
Evaluations are conducted with each youth employee to determine how valuable the experience was for them and to measure their dependability, job knowledge, work quality, attendance, punctuality, and overall job satisfaction. The City of Meriden Youth Services Division stays in touch with youth employees during the year, and students are encouraged to reapply for the Summer Employment program the following year. April Pinto is also planning to offer workshops for youth throughout the year, including resume building and filling out applications for school and work.
One thing is certain: over 100 students now have a glimpse into the working world and what they can expect in the future–and they are better prepared, thanks to the Summer Employment program.