New funds to bolster youth job training in Delaware

New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer and West End Neighborhood House executive director Paul Calistro listen as Bright Spot Farms director Sindhu Siva describes the work needed to grow poinsettias at the New Castle farm. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer and West End Neighborhood House executive director Paul Calistro listen as Bright Spot Farms director Sindhu Siva describes the work needed to grow poinsettias at the New Castle farm. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

A program that provides job training and other skills to at-risk youth in Delaware is one of only three such initiatives in the nation to get a Citi Foundation grant two years in a row.

The $250,000 grant from Citi will support a program that provides paid work experience and on-the-job training for 150 young people in New Castle County and Wilmington between the ages of 16 and 24. In coordination with the West End Neighborhood House, young people work at sites including Bright Spot Farms in New Castle.

The young workers learn skills that translate beyond the farm, said farm director Sindhu Siva.

“We’re able to understand how we can support each other in being dependable, despite adversity in our lives; how we can communicate, even when it’s hard or its uncomfortable; how to keep our cool when mistakes happen and even when it’s literally 100+ degrees outside in the middle of summer,” Siva said. “These are not skills that people take the time to slow down and really teach, and a lot of times it’s things you have to learn on the go.”

And while those soft skills are important to learn, program participants have also learned how to produce results on the farm.

“They are out there working hard, but more importantly, they’re smiling,” said West End Neighborhood House executive director Paul Calistro. “They grow tens of thousands of pounds of vegetables each year, and sell them at the markets.”

West End offers workers industry-specific training as well as help with placement.

“In addition to providing paid work experience to 135 youth last year, we have refined the program to further expand opportunities for young people,” Calistro said.

The Delaware program is part of Citi Foundation’s Pathways to Progress initiative that will devote $100 million to support youth job training nationwide over three years.

“The fact you’ve selected New Castle County and Wilmington two years in a row is really meaningful to us and helps make this community stronger,” said New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer.

Young people and employers who are interested in participating in either the summer or year-round employment program should contact the New Castle County Department of Community Services.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.