Programs helping to connect Berkshire youths with summer jobs

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NORTH ADAMS >> Two regional initiatives are in full swing this week helping youths prepare for and enter the workforce.

The first, the North Adams Youth Works summer program, sponsored by Berkshire Regional Employment Board, is holding a pre-employment workshop at Drury High School.

Participants gather from 9 a.m. to noon to learn career-building skills such as resume building, according to Heather Williams, director of the program.

There are 7 students slated for work at Brayton Elementary School's summer science camp.

"I think it's going to be fun," said Joseph "J.J." Middleton. "I think what we are learning here is going to help a lot."

The city summer program relies on community donations and employer willingness to hire city youth aged 14 through 22. This year, $17,000 was raised and 13 young people will be earning a paycheck beginning next week.

Williams said that three of the 13 are sponsored by a state-funded Pittsfield Youth Works program. North Adams receives no state funding for its program. State regulations allow Pittsfield to share its program funds with other communities.

The readiness class is led by Berkshire Community Action Council ReConnect Outreach Coordinator Rebecca "Becky" Ringer.

"Getting this help is really good," said Eric Odello, 18. "Learning how to do proper handshakes, that's some of the things people don't think about."

Sydney Smithers, 16, is hoping to earn money to help celebrate her daughter's first birthday

"I'd like to work with kids or work with a veterinarian," she said. "I would like to be a vet. I like this program, I think it's pretty awesome."

Several participants volunteer at Brayton school or other venues during the year.

Jammie DuRant said he volunteers at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and the River Street community garden. Employment opportunities are welcome, he said.

"I was lucky that I found this," he said of the program.

Participants must be referred to the program by a teacher, counselor or other adult.

"The hardship is that we cannot take all the kids because of funding limitations," said Drury High School Career Specialist Michele Boyer-Vivori, who also is the youth works program coordinator. "I'd love to see this expand into a full Northern Berkshire program. I'd like to see it in South Berkshire, too."

A second initiative, the Berkshire Family and Individual Resources Pre-Employment Transition Program is funded by the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission, said Kelly Brennan, the agencies director of employment.

Participants in the program must be referred by the state agency, enrolled in high school, aged 16 to 22, and must complete the program by the time they graduate.

BFAIR provides services for those with cognitive disabilities, autism and acquired brain injuries. The agency is headquartered at 771 South Church St.

The initiative is tailored to individual students. Students complete a questionnaire to determine career interests and efforts are made to match them with appropriate employers, said program specialist Becky McAllister.

Participants also engage in employment readiness sessions. Appropriate attire is required and those who do not possess a work wardrobe are assisted by a Goodwill Industries "Suit Yourself" program, Brennan said.

Initially, students are accompanied to the job site by a support person.

"We start out with a strong presence then we fade back," Brennan said.

McAllister said that students from Drury, Charles H. McCann, Mount Greylock and Monument Mountain high schools have participated with the program.

Work experience is invaluable, and at the end of the eight-week program, a job reference may be acquired. McAllister and Brennan said. Both emphasized that the reference must be earned by the student.

"We want to have the students doing enough for the employer that they are a help," McAllister said. "The goal is to impress the employer enough so that they want their name used as a reference."

Training now leads to more independence in adulthood, Brennan said.

"We want to make an impact on the lives of the kids so they can lead better lives as adults," she said.


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