Program puts teens to work

| 15 Feb 2012 | 09:10

Summer employment program provided, training, jobs NEWTON — A group of teens from low-income families in northern New Jersey spent six weeks learning new skills, and getting valuable on-the-job experience courtesy of the Project Self-Sufficiency Summer Youth Employment Program. The intensive curriculum combined classroom instruction with hands-on work experience at several area non-profit organizations. The 24 youths ranged in age from 14 to 17, and for many, the program was their first experience with paid employment. Each work day brought an hour of job skills training at Project Self-Sufficiency followed by work at an area employer. Teens were employed at the Sussex County YMCA, Blue Mountain Day Camp, Peters Valley Craft Center, Board of Social Services, Birth Haven, the First Presbyterian Church of Newton, Antler Ridge Wildlife Sanctuary, and Sussex County Community College. Responsibilities included clerical work, data entry, research, camp counseling, animal care and other tasks. Transportation was provided to all participants as part of the program. “Project Self-Sufficiency was delighted to be able to offer these youths the opportunity to gain work experience and learn valuable skills this summer,” noted Deborah Berry-Toon, Executive Director of Project Self-Sufficiency. “We are grateful to the area employers who took these teens under their wings, and we are indebted to the funders who made this program possible.” Learning about work After the students tumbled off the bus each morning, they learned about a variety of workplace topics, including the importance of first impressions, desired characteristics in an employee, interviewing tips, time management strategies, conflict resolution and other subjects. Students were then transported to their individual work sites. “This program was a success because it opened up a whole new world for these kids,” commented Terri Glinbizzi, Summer Youth Employment Program Coordinator on behalf of Project Self-Sufficiency. The teens were recruited for the program based on the level of their household income, access to transportation, and other factors. Doing the jobs Three teens were employed at the Antler Ridge Wildlife Sanctuary in Frelinghuysen over the summer. Their tasks included the daily preparation of formula and feed for 140 animals, including squirrels, possums, fawns and skunks. The team also created walking trails and observation points throughout the farm, and developed a virtual tour of the property to help with fundraising and outreach. “The girls helped us tremendously,” commented Kelly Simonetti, Director and Owner of Antler Ridge. “This year we experienced more animal intakes than we have ever had which really stressed our volunteer pool. Having 6 extra hands was a huge asset in ensuring that each animal received the proper care.” The Sussex County Board of Social Services employed five teens this summer, handling basic clerical tasks like manning the reception desk, filing, data entry and helping in the county food pantry. Director Carol Novrit, noted, “The kids were terrific. They were productive and they brought a renewed energy and excitement into the office that only a 15 or 16-year-old can bring.” The impact of the experience The program had a huge impact on the outlook of each teen as well. “I saw a big change in every child because this was their first work experience, so they had to learn basic employment skills like what it means to work,” added Carol. “By the end of their time here, many were able to work independently and they had a new appreciation for work. They also learned what they did and did not like, which will help them when it is time to select a career.” Kelly Simonetti agrees, saying, “I hope that they do this program again next year, because by the end of the 6 weeks, these girls were transformed. They were able to understand and appreciate what we do, and they established camaraderie with all of our volunteers, who range from women in their 50’s to retirees. The girls were able to show initiative, and they fit right in and worked as a team.” The Summer Youth Employment Program was funded by the Hudson Farm Foundation of The Community Foundation of New Jersey, along with a donor who wishes to remain anonymous.