HELPING HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS PREPARE FOR THE FUTURE by Ellen Donker
YouthNet provides local internships to explore career options.
It’s a big world out there and when you’re a high school student, figuring out a future career or a college major can look impossibly hard. With so many options, how does one narrow them down? Diane Malloy, executive director of YouthNet, a Maplewood/South Orange nonprofit that provides afterschool programming to teens, thinks high schoolers should have the chance to test out different opportunities. Its Summer Internship/Mentor Program is a good place to start.
Now in its 15th year, the program helps students gain experience, build a resume, and enhance their college applications. In the early years, YouthNet hosted seminars with the Columbia High School guidance department at which businesspeople described to students what they did for a living. YouthNet also arranged to bring students to job sites to see businesses in action. Malloy says, “It progressed as we developed relationships with local organizations and businesses.” These days, YouthNet enlists businesses, nonprofits and government organizations to carve out opportunities for students to get real life experience in a job setting.
Malloy is gearing up for another summer program and is looking for businesses to sign on as mentors. Although she has connections from past years, Malloy has also built the kind of relationships that come from raising children and being an integral part of Maplewood for 25-plus years. Still, she and Camilla Finch Teitelman, the co-chair of the board of directors, will soon start going door to door to Maplewood and South Orange businesses – especially the new ones – to describe the internship program and ask owners to envision how they could participate.
The pair would like to sign up as many businesses as possible and is aiming for at least 20 by April 1. Last year, 17 businesses provided opportunities for the high schoolers, ranging from retailers like Brave Floral and Pet Wants SOMA to the South Orange Public Library and Kimaya Kama. YouthNet provides the mentoring businesses with an orientation so they understand the program’s goals and objectives and are realistic about the abilities of students, many of whom have never held a job before.
Once Malloy and Teitelman have their roster of businesses, they will work through the CHS guidance department to market the program and gather applications that ask students about their hobbies, work experience, availability and what they would like to do. This information will help them interview each student to tease out his or her interests and availability – all in an effort to match them with the right opportunities come June.
Before the students begin their internship, YouthNet provides them with several workshops that cover areas such as resume building, networking, and communication. South Orange Village Trustee Donna Coallier, a former partner at Price Waterhouse Coopers, trained the students last year using tools she had gained in the corporate arena. Rather than lecturing, she made the sessions experiential so the students could build real skills. For instance, in her resume-building session, she had kids break into groups, capture their interests on a flipchart and then translate them into skills they could use on their resumes. To teach the art of networking, Collier had the kids name where they wanted to work and then see who had connections that could help them get a foot in the door. (Apparently a lot of kids want to work with animals.)
To ensure that both mentor and student get the most out of the internship program, Malloy hires two coordinators, typically teachers, who check in with the businesses and the students several times a week. They help solve problems and coach the students throughout the program.
Valerie Rojas Braverman of Brave Floral in Maplewood Village became a mentor for the first time last summer. She says, “It was a nice opportunity to connect with people in the community,” and liked that the program was well organized. Braverman was paired with CHS sophomore Abby Pasternack who worked one day a week. Rather than giving her tasks, Braverman taught her about the business itself: the rationale of why they follow certain procedures and how it affects their entire operation. Pasternack helped with plant inventory, the intake of fresh florals, and the varied care of different plants. Braverman had a great experience and says, “[Abby] was so professional and really took initiative.”
Although YouthNet doesn’t ask businesses to pay the students, they are hoping to secure a grant through the Achieve Foundation so they can provide a stipend to each participant. Malloy believes this will increase the number of students who sign up.
Some of the businesses are hoping to participate again this year. The Maplewood Township DPW even offered to hire their intern after graduation. Malloy believes the program can be a catalyst for a student’s future career and says, “The idea that you can think of something you love and might want to do –you can test out [with the internship program] before you’re fully committed.”
Business owners or nonprofits who wish to participate in the program should contact Diane Malloy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ellen Donker entered the workforce in high school with a job at Burger King. She did not choose the fast food industry for a career.