WESTFIELD – Fifty young people in Westfield have jobs this summer because of the YouthWorks program.
YouthWorks is a state-funded summer and year-round job program for Massachusetts low-income youth. The program subsidizes private, public, and non-profit jobs for at-risk youths who are between 14 and 21 years old.
One of the goals of the program is to lower juvenile detention rates by giving jobs to youth who have been involved in the courts or are otherwise at risk.
According to Westfield YouthWorks Coordinator Sherry Elander, the youth are considered at-risk for a number of reasons, including language barriers. Elander said many of the Westfield youth participating in the program are learning English as a second language. She said children of struggling single parents and teen parents also comprise those working through the program.
Elander, who coordinates a similar program at Westfield High School for students with special needs, said this is Westfield’s first year in the program.
“This is Westfield’s first year qualifying for YouthWorks because the city’s socioeconomic statistics have changed,” she said.
Westfield, Springfield, Holyoke and Chicopee are all participating this year.
The youth – who are largely high school students – earn a stipend of $8 per hour and work for various business and organizations in the community. From TJ Maxx to Stanley Park, golf courses to restaurants and city departments, the youth learn a variety of skills.
One student, WHS senior Aleksandra Bich, is working as Elander’s assistant. Much of her job consists of data entry. Elander said because YouthWorks is a state-funded program, there is a lot of paperwork.
“There is a large amount of accountability and Alex spends a lot of her time on data entry,” said Elander, adding that she also has helped a new Westfield bridal business, Glitz, Glamour and Elegance, with the design and production of its brochure.
Bich is also a budding photographer who plans to study photography at Springfield Technical Community College. To help strengthen her skills, Bich is photographing participants in their jobs and will create a mini documentary on Westfield YouthWorks, which will be sent to the governor.
When asked what skills she is learning, Bich said without hesitation, “time management and organization.”
Bich is typical of many YouthWorks participants in that she tried to find a summer job on her own with no success.
“Every time I went to apply somewhere, they said they were not hiring or they wanted someone with more experience,” said Bich.
Elander said getting that experience is tough for a young person and YouthWorks is a great start.
“Every participant takes a two-day job readiness course and has to go through an interview with me,” said Elander. “I was impressed with them during the interview process – they came dressed for the job. They all want to work, they just needed the opportunity.”
Elander said she’s not the only one impressed with the youth.
“All the employers are happy with the students,” she said. “Westfield State University was so impressed they told me how they can go about applying for jobs on campus.”
Elander said the first year of YouthWorks in Westfield was a success and she is “hopeful” the program will be funded again next year.
“These young people are working and they’re excited and happy to be there,” Elander said.
To learn more about The Commonwealth Corporation, a the state quasi-public corporation within the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development that administers the YouthWorks program, click here.