Petersburg Students Earn Valuable Work Experience through Summer Youth Program

Nearly 20 students from Petersburg High School (PHS) are preparing for a new school year with valuable knowledge gained from spending their summer in Goodwill’s Youth Work Experience Program.

“This was my first job ever,” said Kayla Hendricks, a PHS rising senior who worked at the Petersburg Commission of Revenue office. “I learned how to conduct myself in the workplace, as well as how a part of city government operates,” she added.

Goodwill leaders hosted an awards ceremony and recognition banquet on August 10 to congratulate the 18 participants.

This year, Goodwill teamed up with five employment partners in Petersburg: Boys & Girls Club of America, Petersburg Commission of Revenue’s Office, Petersburg Freedom Support Center, Petersburg Parks and Leisure Service, Petersburg Sherriff’s Office and Wiz Kidz, Inc.

“I am so proud of this year’s program graduates,” said Sylika Warren, program facilitator and career advisor at Goodwill’s Petersburg Community Employment Center (CEC). “They’ve made tremendous progress, not just with planning their own career, but also with a new sense of personal confidence in knowing they can be successful,” Warren added.

Ethan Hagans, a graduating senior, said he learned how to be more independent and make decisions during his work experience at the Petersburg Freedom Support Center. “The first few weeks, I kept asking my supervisor what to do after finishing a task,” said Hagans. “Then, I developed the initiative to continue tasks without being asked,” he added.

This program started in 2013, with support from the Cameron Foundation, to create summer youth work experience for PHS juniors and seniors. Students receive job readiness training and education, facilitated by Goodwill’s career advisors, along with a paid summer work experience.  Ongoing funding for the program is made possible by United Way of Greater Richmond and Petersburg.

Job readiness training sessions students received during the summer included a variety of work-related topics, including appropriate work attire, interpersonal skills, decision-making skills, interviewing skills, employer expectation and time management.

“These are the same skills we teach adults at our CECs,” said Warren. “It’s never too early to prepare students for the workforce, especially if they decide to start working right after high school.”

According to a report from the U.S. Bureau of Statistics, as of March 2018, Petersburg’s unemployment rate is 6.8 percent–almost double the Virginia statewide average of 3.4 percent. Warren said the program’s paid work experience served as an unintentional lifesaver for some students.

“Past participants have told me if not for this program, they wouldn’t have money to help their parents pay for groceries, gas or rent. With those types of barriers at home, it’s hard to graduate from high school – let alone plan the next five years of their lives,” said Warren.

Upton Bailey, a rising senior who worked with the city’s Parks & Leisure Services, said he appreciated the paycheck, as well as the life skills he learned from the program. “I worked with kids from the community. It was a lot of fun, and it was even better that I got paid to have fun and learn,” he said.

When asked about the biggest lesson he learned, he said, “Patience, because I didn’t have a lot before. Now I know the importance of being patient because you have to learn how to work with different people in the workplace,” he added.

Nichelle Evans worked at Wiz Kidz, Inc., a local daycare, and said the summer work program was a great experience. “I learned how to take my time and not be in a rush when working on a project. This program definitely gave me a different look at the real world,” she said.

Nine of the participants will enter their senior year of high school in the fall, and nine are college bound, attending several local institutions, including James Madison University, John Tyler Community College, Richard Bland College, Norfolk State University, Virginia Commonwealth University and Virginia State University.

For more information on Goodwill’s youth services or how to become an employment partner, call 804-745-6300 in Central Virginia or 757-951-4200 in Hampton Roads or visit www.goodwillvirginia.org .