School-to-work apprenticing

In the children’s section at The Dover Plains Library, from left to right, Amy Smith (Director of Dover Plains Library), Meredith Hamilton (Teen Program Director), Katie Cariello (School to Work Coordinator), and Shannon (student intern).

Natalia Zuckerman

School-to-work apprenticing

With funding from the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, North East Community Center’s (NECC) School-to-Work Apprenticeship Program supports young adults navigating the delicate transition from adolescence to adulthood.

Webutuck, Dover Plains, Pine Plains, and Millbrook Public School students (and recent graduates) are paired with local trades and businesses during their junior and senior years of high school, giving students an invaluable opportunity to explore a diversity of career fields while gaining transferable skills to shape not just careers, but lives.

The School to Work program began in 2022 under the Teen Programs umbrella, one of the longest running programs at the NECC, which serves students aged 14 through 17.

Also in partnership with local businesses, the Teen Program gives many of these teenagers their first work experience, paying each for up to 160 hours. It is a year-round program with additional funding for summer placements.

Teen Program Director Meredith Hamilton explained, “It’s the hope that our Teen Jobs youth will transition into School to Work as they gather more skills and are more aware of what they’re interested in.”

The School to Work Coordinator, Katie Cariello said, “School to Work is for folks who are mainly between 16 to 23 who are looking to enter the workforce after graduating high school. Or maybe they tried higher education and realized it wasn’t for them, or maybe they’re still in that middle area of trying to decide what they want to do next.” Cariello works closely with all these individuals, helping them to build their resumes and hone their interview skills while giving them space to focus on their interests.

Shannon, a student at Dover Plains High School, has been an intern at the Dover Library since mid-January. A self-proclaimed shy person, Shannon reflected, “It’s hard for me to get out there and this has been really helpful.” Amy Smith, the Director of the Dover Plains Library added supportively, “I was also very shy when I started, but one of the nice things about this work is you have kind of a scripted interaction, so it allows you practice speaking to strangers…which is weird,” she laughed.

Smith also underscored the program’s transformative potential saying, “One of the things I think that’s interesting about library work is that a lot of the skills are really customer service, and then a whole bunch are sort of office, clerical related. So, there’s a whole lot of transferable skills.”

Shannon drives her own car to her job at the library but the NECC’s Transportation program also helps individuals without access to transportation. Trying to find businesses to participate in the program that are on the school bus route, however, is also a priority as the new program continues to take shape.

Outreach for the program has taken the form of “a lot of cold calling,” said Cariello, as well as newsletters, word of mouth, and an online form for any business currently hiring.

The NECC also works closely with Dutchess BOCES (Board of Cooperative Educational Services) who do a lot of trade programming. Students can go during their school day to learn about plumbing, HVAC, culinary arts, nursing, security, cosmetology and more. “It’s a lot of hands-on learning,” said Cariello. Just a few of the businesses participating in the program so far are Amenia Parks and Recreation, AFI Glass & Architectural Metal, Inc, and Wethersfield Estate & Garden with more being added in the summer.

Meredith Hamilton shared, “We’re asking a lot of business, but we’re also showing them that we have youth that are ready and able to work, and we really want to support them.” She continued, “Our main goal is matching youth with a business and having it be the experience they’re looking for and a career that they want to pursue.” Cariello added, “We want to show the businesses that we are here to support them as well, that we are willing to do some of the financial backing if it means they can be a mentor and give this young person a real glimpse into what a particular field could look like for them.

“But,” she added, “sometimes students try working somewhere and realize it’s not an avenue they want to pursue. And so,” she continued, “they had a safe space in order to try it.”

Safety, access, and support are just a few of the gifts of this program. And, Smith adds, “No matter where Shannon goes next, she has a reference. As a young person, finding a reference that isn’t related to you or like a neighbor or whatever can be really hard. So that’s part of the beauty of this program. It sets people up.”

To find out more about the School to Work or Teen Jobs program, visit www.neccmillerton.org or email teenprograms@neccmillerton.org

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