Since 2009, the YouthWorks program in the Northern Neck of Virginia has helped disadvantaged young people stay on track in high school and better prepare themselves for college and career.
With the support of the Jessie Ball duPont Fund, YouthWorks will continue through 2013 while program leaders develop a long-term business plan. in March, the Fund’s trustees approved a grant of $71,872 to Lancaster Community Library, which is part of the partnership that operates YouthWorks: Rappahannock Community College, WorkForce Development and Visions, the community poverty-alleviation initiative housed at the Lancaster Community Library.
“These young people remind me, each year, of the excitement and anxiety that teens face today,” said Lindsy Gardner, director of the Library. “YouthWorks just makes sense for our community. I see it every summer in the face of my teen employee when she receives her very first paycheck.”
YouthWorks targets high school students who are less likely to have the social and academic supports that encourage high school completion, post-secondary education and self-sustaining employment.
In its first four years, 164 high school students have participated in YouthWorks; 86% live in households with incomes below 75% of the federal poverty level, and 53% live in single parent households. More than half of the participants have never held a job.
However, 94% of YouthWorks students have completed their high school education and, each year, between 22% and 43% of those graduates have gone on to pursue post-secondary education.
Moreover, YouthWorks uses a rigorous program to ensure that program graduates have the perspective and core skills needed for employment. YouthWorks exposes teens to growth industries, such as health care and finance; takes participants on trips to college towns in Virginia to experience life on a college campus; and teaches personal finance workshops to instill the importance of budgeting and saving.
Perhaps most important, YouthWorks participants are encouraged to prepare for the workplace by mastering core competencies in order to earn a Career Readiness Certificate. This nationally-recognized certificate quantifies the youths’ skills in areas such as problem solving, critical thinking, applied math, locating information and reading for information. In three years of testing, 96% of YouthWorks participants tested were awarded certificates.
“This test is thorough and really does require an ability to apply work-related skills to problem-solving,” said Gardner.
To date, the Jessie Ball duPont Fund has invested $364,000 in YouthWorks. The current grant will enable leadership to bring together community stakeholders to develop a sustainable business model for the program going forward.