Programs ensure that for youths' summer employment, readiness training is job one
By Tony Dobrowolski, The Berkshire Eagle
PITTSFIELD — Davon Young wants to be an environmental scientist someday, but he didn't really know what it was like to hold a job until now.
Davon, a rising sophomore at Pittsfield High School, has been harvesting and sorting vegetables at Red Shirt Farm in Lanesborough this summer through his involvement with the Pittsfield Youth Works program.
"This is my first job," said Davon, 15. "It's taught me cultural skills and how to talk to other people. It's taught me how to be responsible, waking up in the morning and getting there on time. Making sure everything is good and all right."
Even amid a relatively robust economy, it can be hard for local youths to find summer jobs.
But Davon is among 71 youngsters who managed to find gainful employment this summer through three programs administered by the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board.
The majority of those youngsters — 54 — have been employed in the Pittsfield Youth Works program, now in its 14th year. Among the others, 10 found jobs through the North Adams Summer Works Program, now in its fourth year.
Seven received internships as part of the dual enrollment program-summer academy program run jointly by the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and Berkshire Community College. That program, which serves recent Berkshire County high school graduates and rising seniors, is in its third year.
Each program is different, but they all provide work-readiness training, guidance and support from educators, and a 125-hour work experience with a workplace mentor.
The North Adams program began the last week in June and ended Friday. Pittsfield's program ends Aug. 17.
The Pittsfield Youth Works program is funded by the state through the Commonwealth Corp., which provided $129,000 to the BerkshireWorks Career Center in Pittsfield to provide 45 at-risk youngsters ages 14 to 21 with summer employment and work-readiness training. BerkshireWorks is administered by the regional employment board. Those eligible for this year's program were recruited through Pittsfield Public Schools, the Adult Learning Center, the Pittsfield Community Connection, BerkshireWorks and the Reconnect Center. They are monitored by BerkshireWorks.
Youngsters need to come from income-eligible backgrounds in order to participate, said Kelly Groves, BerkshireWorks youth program coordinator. The "at-risk" designation refers to a variety of social factors that involve youngsters who have been under court supervision, or are considered to be homeless, runaways, in foster care or under Department of Youth Services supervision. Those struggling academically or who have dropped out of school also are eligible to participate, Groves said.
"It's a subsidized work program for young people," Groves said. "It helps them acquire the skills they need to gain experience in employment ... and marketable skills to help them for future employment. It's very competitive out there. A lot of these youths have never had jobs before.
"It helps provide a network for many of the students who don't have that," she said.
This year's employers include 27 entities from a variety of job sectors, including arts and culture organizations, nonprofit social service agencies, educational institutions, an extended care facility, for-profit businesses like Hotel on North and Krispy Cones, and even U.S. Olympic Taekwondo.
Victor Fred, 17, a rising senior at PHS. is working as a camp counselor at Berkshire Community College through his involvement in the Pittsfield Youth Works program. Fred, who has another job working at the Lee Premium Outlets, eventually wants to pursue a business career, but he said serving as a counselor has taught him to be "more patient" around children.
"You can go to school and slack," he said. "But when you work, you've got things to do."
Alex Dudek, 18, who graduated from PHS in June, is doing custodial work at BCC through the Youth Works program but is using the opportunity to set up a work-study program for himself so he can attend the college in the fall.
Dudek, a defensive lineman for Pittsfield High's football team last fall, said he never took schoolwork seriously until his senior year, and those academic struggles cost him the opportunity to play football at Westfield State University this year. Dudek said Westfield State's football coach suggested that he go to community college this year, then reapply, and that's what he's planning to do.
His involvement in the work program has "made me want to go a little bit farther," Dudek said. "I want to be financially stable. I'd thought about it (before), but I never realized how hard it was."
The North Adams Summer Works Program is funded through donations by four entities that support youngsters through the North County public school districts and the Berkshire Community Action Council.
The participants were placed in work experiences that related to their career interests, which this year included child care/education, political science, hospitality and tourism, sports and recreation and building maintenance. This year's employers also featured a range of entities, including two lodging establishments, a summer camp, a summer basketball league and North Adams Mayor Thomas Bernard's office.
The dual-enrollment program provides its participants with an awareness of local postsecondary opportunities, while serving to expand the population of college-ready students within the Berkshires.
"They take a couple of college courses in the morning, and do an internship in the afternoon," said Molly Meczywor of Hoosac Valley High School, who coordinates the internship segments. The youngsters apply for the program through MCLA.
The program is geared toward "kids who might not have college as an option," Meczywor said. "It gets them thinking about college as an option. And, now that it is an option, how do they manage the load?"
Participants earn early college credit by participating in an English and mathematics course, develop their college readiness skills through a series of postsecondary transition activities and have the option to also participate in a paid summer internship opportunity overseen by the regional employment board.
"I try to pair the kids with their interests and see if it's a career they would be interested in pursuing after college," Meczywor said.
Business Editor Tony Dobrowolski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-496-6224.