At-risk teens find summer jobs in WoodburyThe Washington County Workforce Center offers a subsidized youth program that places 14- to 21-year-old, low-income, at-risk students in jobs around the county.
By: Riham Feshir, Woodbury Bulletin
For 16-year-old Jhane Wilson, working with children makes her happy, energetic and advances her career hopes of becoming a pediatrician.
“They just brighten my day,” the Woodbury High School junior said with a smile. “If I’m sad or something, I play with a child and they turn my world upside down.”
So when she heard about the Washington County Workforce Center Youth Program that would give her an opportunity to work a summer job at Footprints Academy, it was just a good fit for her.
“Before, I tried at fast food restaurants, but it didn’t really fit,” Wilson said. “This is a good way to spend your summer.”
The Washington County Workforce Center, located in Woodbury, offers a subsidized youth program that places 14- to 21-year-old, low-income, at-risk students in jobs around the county.
The program runs year-round, but summer brings on the most teens and young adults looking for employment and training opportunities, program coordinator Carrie Gatzke said.
Though Washington County operates the program, students are paid the minimum wage from state and federal dollars through the Workforce Investment Act and the Minnesota Youth Program.
Youths are placed in nonprofit organizations and government entities, as well as private businesses. So far this summer, out of the 45 county workers, 16 have been hired in Woodbury.
“We see a high demand for our program because youth are still finding it difficult to find employment, especially their first job,” Gatzke said. “The youth unemployment rate is much higher than the unemployment rate we hear about.”
Addressing a decline
According to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, the population of the state’s 16- to 19-year-olds who are employed during the summer months has “sharply declined during the past 10 years, dropping 47 percent from summer 2000 to 2010.”
The Workforce Center receives hundreds of applications for the program every year, Gatzke said, but only a limited number can be accepted.
Youths must also meet income guidelines in addition to at least one of a number of risk factors like a learning disability, history of chemical dependency, homelessness and teen pregnancy.
“We serve youth who are in foster care, who have a disability, teen parents…” Gatzke said. “Even just youth who are struggling in school, maybe they’re behind in credits or behind in math or reading levels.”
The number of young workers the program is able to serve, however, is controlled by how much money the county receives every year.
In 2010, the program benefited from a large stimulus package, Gatzke said.
“We were able to serve probably triple what we serve right now,” she added. “The funding levels go up and down based on what’s going on in the federal level.”
This year, Washington County received about $286,000 from the Federal Workforce Investment Act; approximately $98,000 from the State Minnesota Youth Program Funding; and a six-month funding of $10,000 from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, which serves teen parents.
The program has been in place for more than 20 years. It has helped hundreds of students pay for post-secondary training, and hundreds of others earn paychecks for the first time, Gatzke said.
“Even just after the summer, we see an increase in confidence,” she said. “Just having this experience and being around other people, positive mentors, (benefits) some youth who are kind of lacking that either in their home life or other areas.
“You see pride in what they’re doing.”
Nikki Robbins, owner of Footprints Academy, which runs Peace of Mind Early Education Center where Wilson started working as a teacher’s aide in June, said the youth program is a win-win for everybody.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to have youth here working with our kids and their families,” she said. “Our little kids really like having the youth and energy.”
Peace of Mind currently has four youth employees and is working on hiring one more for the summer, Robbins said.
Other Woodbury worksites include: Washington County Work Force Center, R.H. Stafford Library, city of Woodbury, Great Harvest Bread Company, the YMCA and New Horizon Academy.
The program also partnered with Tree Trust, a landscaping company, to hire youth at Woodbury’s Shawnee Park to build a modular block wall.
Gatzke said that program received more than 100 applications, but it could only serve 50 who work in crews of eight, while earning the minimum wage.
The Washington County Workforce Center Youth program is still recruiting 19- to 21-year-olds.
For more information, visit: www.co.washington.mn.us/info_for_residents/community_services/mn_workforce_center/.