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Say Y.E.S. to Career Readiness and Employment for Teens

Just ask any teenager in the Rockford community and they will surely tell you that the struggle is real, when it comes to securing summer employment. Any mention of interviews, resumes, networking, or identifying skill sets to teenagers generally conjures up in them a fear, much like being chased by Freddie Kruger —which is precisely what The Wabongo Leadership Council, the Rockford Park District, and other community leaders want to change.

The Wabongo Leadership Council is a nonprofit organization whose role is to enhance leadership capacity within Rockford’s African American community. Wabongo organize young thought leaders and collaborate with partners to engage the community around education, health & wellness, and community & economic development.

On March 12, at Rockford University, the Wabongo Leadership Council partnered with the Rockford Park District, organized a day long series of career readiness workshops, officially known as the “Y.E.S. or Youth Employment Series.” Workshops lead by human resource professionals, community leaders, and other business professionals assisted over 50 high school students with improving their career readiness skills while connecting them to summer employment at the Rockford Park District.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, the youth labor force 16 to 24 year olds working or actively looking for work grows sharply between April and July each year. During these months, large numbers of high school and college students search for or take summer jobs, and many graduates enter the labor market to look for or begin permanent employment. Last summer, the youth labor force grew by 2.7 million, or 13.5 percent, to a total of 23.2 million in July. The competition could be brutal, especially for those ill equipped with career readiness skills.

“For many of the teens that participate in Y.E.S., this is an opportunity to land their first job- an essential building block for their career. Not only does Y.E.S prepare them for this opportunity it also connects them with partner organizations like the Rockford Park District and the YMCA that value diversity in their workforce as well as building community. “says Terrance Hall, Wabongo Y.E.S. chair.

“I came to this event last year, looking for a job. I didn’t know how to fill out an application, dress or answers questions for an interview, let alone complete a resume. I found out that even my handshake was wrong, I was always shaking hands with my left hand when I met people instead of using my right hand.” said Karen Ponce, a Guilford High School senior. “Y.E.S. is an excellent way to learn how to be in an interview.’” says Ponce. After attending Y.E.S. last year Pounce was able to gain summer employment with the Rockford Park District and was offered to continue her summer position this upcoming summer. This year as a Y.E.S. volunteer Ponce brought 4 youth with her. Ponce was assisting as a translator for the bilingual students present, making sure that the Spanish speaking Y.E.S. students fully understood materials presented during the workshops.

The Rockford Park District’s, Carlton Nabors says that, “today is a good thing, Y.E.S. is a good thing for the youth.” Nabors who works with elementary and middle school aged students volunteered to spend the entire day assisting Y.E.S. participants with mock interviews. Nabors expressed that events such as Y.E.S. gives him strength and courage to continue his role in mentoring the students he encounters at his Rockford Park District position. Nabors states he’s confident knowing that when his students are ready for this phase in their life events such as Y.E.S. will be there to assist them.

This initiative comes just months after a recent spike in juvenile related crimes. Studies show summer jobs help keep youth out of trouble. According to Health Day News, teens who get summer jobs are much less likely to commit violent crimes.

This is the Wabongo Leadership Council’s third Youth Employment Series, last spring 15 of the 35 inaugural participants gained seasonal employment with the Rockford Park District.

For more information on events and programs with the Wabongo Leadership Council, please visit wabongo.org and facebook.com/Wabongo Leadership Council.

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