$250K grant to help Delaware youth find jobs

Young people attempting to enter the workforce often report feeling stuck when seeking employment, because businesses frequently require a certain amount of experience.

The question remains- how does one gain experience if that is the qualifying factor to landing a job?

The quest can be more challenging for a young person who doesn’t have access to educational opportunities or “connections.”

West End Neighborhood House in Wilmington hopes to reach more at-risk youth in search of employment, thanks to a $250,000 grant.

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The nonprofit is one of 15 out of 450 applicants across the country to receive the Youth Workforce Fund grant, totaling $4 million, from Citi Foundation to expand their programming designed to provide employment opportunities.

“Young people need a job for spending money, to stay out of trouble, but more importantly, so they can have some experience as they’re going forward,” said West End Executive Director Paul Calistro. “Anyone in college needs an internship in order to find a job, young people in high school also need some kind of job opportunities.”

The group will use the fund, which will last a year, to serve 150 youth aged 16 to 24 from disadvantaged neighborhoods in New Castle County, identifying their interests and helping them find work experience based on their career goals and skill sets.

“They don’t have a network, so they don’t have ways of connecting, many jobs have moved out of the city, so transportation is an issue, we’re going to help people with transportation, also they don’t know how to apply, most jobs you have to apply online, so teaching people how to apply, teaching people how to interview, teaching people what to wear and what to say in a job,” Calistro said.

In addition to expanding its own programming, the nonprofit will work with New Castle County, which will be able to increase attendance of its summer job programming. The program offers job training to young people and connects them to about 50 employers.

“Sometimes we have some youth who are just into it for a summer paycheck, and then once they get involved with these employers they may have access to opportunities they didn’t know about, be exposed to different experiences, different industries they weren’t aware existed,” said Latoya Rodriguez, recreation supervisor for the county’s Department of Community Services.

“So to have the opportunity for a lot of our youth who are in disadvantaged communities and aren’t aware of what’s out there it gives them hope, it allows them to set goals for themselves, once they have that experience they can say, ‘I’ve experienced this now, I can set a higher goal to move to the next level.’”

County Executive Matt Meyer, D-New Castle County, also spoke of the importance of these programs during a press conference announcing the new funding.

“Every day I’m out talking to employers across the county, and what I hear time and again is they need workers. Their future, both small businesses and large businesses, depends on people in their organization. They’re looking for quality people to work for them,” he said.

“At the same time, every week I’m walking across our county, you go to certain neighborhoods, they say unemployment in certain demographics is 20 and 30 percent—that seems low to me. If you talk to people in certain communities there is so little opportunity, and the key is finding ways, particularly for young people, to say, ‘Here’s an opportunity, regardless of what you’ve done in the past.’”

West End Neighborhood House also will be able to increase the amount of youth who attend the agricultural program at its farm.

“We have a lot of young people that come in our program and they’re intimidated by the nature of the work, but I think everybody learns something about themselves, things you thought you could never do, the hottest day you could imagine, you never thought you could make it through, and you did it day after day after day, and you look back on the season and are amazed by how much you’re able to accomplish, and that’s the biggest thing I’ve seen in these youth—whether it’s believing in themselves, or just seeing the physical products of their labors, the fruits and vegetables, and a lot of people take it home and that’s a change in their diet as well,” said Sindhi Siva, program director at Bright Spot Farms.

“They don’t necessarily know what jobs are out there, so being able to engage in summer youth experiences or job experiences in general it informs what you may like and what you may not like and I think it helps them guide them towards what they do want to do.”

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