GYAC Youth Employability Program inspired by ‘hire’ calling

PHOTO BY JOSHUA KODIS

The Gifford Youth Achievement Center recently hosted a lemon-infused Youth Employability Program Appreciation Breakfast at Quail Valley River Club to celebrate the success of the pilot program and the 16 local employers that had showed their zest for the youth of Indian River County.

“We wanted to celebrate the employers who allowed our students an opportunity to be interns this summer,” said Angelia Perry, GYAC executive director. “As the employer, you allowed our students to test the waters in career fields they have some interest in after high school.”

The summer internship program, which was prompted as part of the revision of GYAC’s strategic plan, provided 23 students in grades 6 through 12 with job training skills, career insight and hands-on experience, based on their interests.

GYAC realized its vision for the program through a $100,000 Impact 100 grant awarded to the nonprofit in April that will be disbursed over the next two years. The grant funds salaries and wages, workplace and youth-level OSHA training/certification, transportation to and from work, and business attire, as needed.

“I am so excited that it was so successful, and it’s because of you,” said Deborah Taylor-Long, GYAC chairwoman, to the employer participants.

“We will certainly need you to continue on this track that we’re on. We always want to make sure that we give youth opportunities that they otherwise would not have if it were not for you all and GYAC.”

To be considered for the program, students were required to participate in soft skills training throughout the year to prepare them for the abilities employers seek when hiring, and interviews with prospective employers.

Perry said students attended employability workshops, took field trips to work sites, had guest speakers, worked on communication and presentation skills, and discussed the importance of good work habits, including being on time and looking people in the eye when speaking with them.

Jay Lundy was hired as YEP director to oversee the program, bringing with him more than 30 years of workforce development experience.

“The partnerships Jay is developing with local businesses will offer students exposure to real-life work environments, relationships and experiences,” said Perry.

Lundy reached out to employers based on the students’ career interests, so they could get a taste of what working in the field would be like, while also gaining experience. Perry said the exposure would either help to solidify these interests or would help them discover that they wished to follow a different career path.

Partnerships were developed with: A+ Therapy Pros; Damasco Innovations; Dr. Elizabeth Kolawole; the Environmental Learning Center; Gifford Youth Orchestra; Gould Cooksey Fennell; Grady Legal; the Indian River County Supervisor of Elections Office; Ironside Press; Masteller & Moler; Oslo Middle School; Quail Valley River Club; Southside Veterinary Hospital; Treasure Coast Community Health; and Treasure Coast Technical College.

“We wanted to expose the students to the world of work and let them start becoming familiar with what is required. We really had a great, positive implementation of this pilot program, thanks in part to Impact 100,” added Perry.

She explained that the funding enabled paid internships at a wage exceeding typical entry-level employment opportunities.

“We wanted to incentivize them to be a part of the program. We wanted them to be committed,” added Perry.

While several employers were able to pay the students wages, Perry explained that nonprofits and government employers weren’t as likely to have such funds in their budgets to do so. That’s where a portion of the Impact 100 grant came into play.

Several younger students participated through job shadowing experiences as, due to their age, they could not be considered as interns. They will, however, be able to participate in the 2023-2024 YEP.

“We think this new program will better enhance what we are already doing with our students here at GYAC,” said Perry.

If there were any doubts as to the success of the program, a photographic slide show of students happily immersed in their summer internships put that to rest. Several of the students have even been hired by their employers to continue working on a part-time basis, said Perry.

At the conclusion of the breakfast, the partner employers received a certificate and lemon tree – a fresh reminder that it takes a nurturing environment to raise a productive workforce.

GYAC is in the process of planning its 25th anniversary gala in January. For more information, visit mygyac.org.

Photos by Joshua Kodis

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