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Youth Works: Help preparing to meet the world

  • Case Specialist Sherry Chaffee goes over a case file with intern Jo-Ann Ault, 18, at the Franklin County Probate and Family Court on Wednesday. Chaffee supervises Ault's work in the register's office.<br/>Recorder/Micky Bedell

    Case Specialist Sherry Chaffee goes over a case file with intern Jo-Ann Ault, 18, at the Franklin County Probate and Family Court on Wednesday. Chaffee supervises Ault's work in the register's office.
    Recorder/Micky Bedell Purchase photo reprints »

  • Case Specialist Sherry Chaffee goes over a case file with intern Jo-Ann Ault, 18, at the Franklin County Probate and Family Court on Wednesday. Chaffee supervises Ault's work in the register's office.<br/>Recorder/Micky Bedell

    Case Specialist Sherry Chaffee goes over a case file with intern Jo-Ann Ault, 18, at the Franklin County Probate and Family Court on Wednesday. Chaffee supervises Ault's work in the register's office.
    Recorder/Micky Bedell Purchase photo reprints »

  • Jo-Ann Ault, 18, of Turners Falls sits at her desk in the Franklin County Probate and Family Court Register's office on Wednesday.<br/>Recorder/Micky Bedell

    Jo-Ann Ault, 18, of Turners Falls sits at her desk in the Franklin County Probate and Family Court Register's office on Wednesday.
    Recorder/Micky Bedell Purchase photo reprints »

  • Case Specialist Sherry Chaffee goes over a case file with intern Jo-Ann Ault, 18, at the Franklin County Probate and Family Court on Wednesday. Chaffee supervises Ault's work in the register's office.<br/>Recorder/Micky Bedell
  • Case Specialist Sherry Chaffee goes over a case file with intern Jo-Ann Ault, 18, at the Franklin County Probate and Family Court on Wednesday. Chaffee supervises Ault's work in the register's office.<br/>Recorder/Micky Bedell
  • Jo-Ann Ault, 18, of Turners Falls sits at her desk in the Franklin County Probate and Family Court Register's office on Wednesday.<br/>Recorder/Micky Bedell

GREENFIELD — When Joann Ault of Turners Falls first walked into the long hallway of Community Action Youth Programs offices on Federal Street, she expected a no-frills, no-laughs meeting with case manager Barry Scott.

The 18-year-old felt focused and motivated as she sat down with the man who would help guide her future and achieve her goals.

She didn’t quite expect what she found. Scott, a case manager at the YouthWorks program, was friendly and empathetic.

“Sometimes you don’t get programs that are reaching out. Here, if you reach, you get that support back,” Ault says.

“I knew what I wanted to do, but having someone behind me helped.”

Six months ago, Ault had faced a hard choice of either moving away with her family and losing the school she loved or finishing high school on her own at Pioneer Regional Valley School.

After discovering Community Action’s Youth Programs at a school career day, she chose to stay. She had already found housing on her own through DIAL/SELF, a Greenfield nonprofit that provides teen housing, and so she was able to stay at Pioneer through School Choice.

Now, she needed a place to help her prepare for the world she’d encounter after she left the hallways of Pioneer. That’s where Community Action Youth Programs came in.

Multiple programs help

Among its many programs, Community Action provides a youth program for 14- to 22-year-olds dedicated to developing leadership and work force skills.

Participants can get help looking for jobs, exploring career options, discovering what jobs are a good fit, writing a resume, completing online applications or practicing for an interview. Three case managers work in the Franklin, Hampshire and North Quabbin regions to help youths come up with ways to overcome barriers and build skills and resilience.

“Many young people have a hard time finding employment in the current economy. We’re focused on getting them their first job experience and we want to give them support,” says Jennie Davis-Bulko, assistant director of youth programs

There are three main work development programs — the Workforce Investment Act Youth Program, the Employment Readiness Support Program and Career Pathways.

The entry point for young people in the workforce development program is Jennifer Hansen, the employment readiness specialist. There are no guidelines to start the program, only a two-year commitment.

“Through conversations, I can see where they’re at,” Hansen said. “We like to see youths come here on their own terms. We’re looking for young people who are ready to take that next step.”

Hansen determines what program is a good fit for each youth. It could be as simple as writing a resume or help preparing college applications or participating in WIA.

In some cases, young people need help improving their literacy skills. Hansen identifies those needs and may refer them to community partners, like the Literacy Project in Greenfield.

“It is about early successes,” Director Lev Ben-Ezra said. “One of the pieces we see is they may have dreams, but no clear goals on how to get there. They haven’t had the experience of taking the next step and having it be successful. This helps them build confidence in knowing what they do really makes a difference.”

The Youth Program is a collaborative community effort among schools, Community Action, local businesses and the Franklin Hampshire Career Center.

“We utilize other providers to build a support network in the community where they are living,” Davis-Bulko said.

Working for life

One of the most significant programs is WIA, an intensive workforce development program that gives youth an opportunity to work one-on-one with a case manager to achieve educational and occupational goals. In addition to case management, youth participate in occupational training, work-based learning experiences and leadership development opportunities.

Through WIA, youths are placed in employment settings from Baystate Franklin Medical Center to Greenfield District Court to Bernardston Elementary School. Community Action served 74 young people last year.

“Through relationship building, we match young people in areas they are interested in. We want young people to try out these fields,” said Maylea Spence, the WIA/YouthWorks program coordinator.

Spence said the case managers constantly evaluate the goals of the young people and try to meet their needs as they change over the two years.

“I like them to focus on the fact that you get a lot out when you put a lot in,” Spence said.

A second program, the Employment Readiness Support Program, helps youths explore career options.

As part of this program, Allen Fowler, a Workforce Development Education instructor, helps with basic job skills, interviewing and professionalism skills.

This workshop series gets youths ready to enter the work world and allows them to explore career options, improve communication, learn how to deal with challenging situations, and learn what employers are looking for from applicants and employees. A total 150 young people were served in this program last year across the three regions.

Through the Career Pathways Exploration and Training Program, participants learn about career options in the growing fields of green energy and health care.

Young people learn about the types of available jobs, assess their skills and interests to find the right fit, visit local employers, get hands-on experience, learn about educational options and find out who’s hiring and what they look for.

This program provides a workshop twice a year for individuals to see different fields in the area like manufacturing, green jobs and health care.

“It’s convincing them that they can succeed when they’re on the cusp of dropping out or have. They realize without a high school diploma or GED, they won’t be able to reach their goals. It’s changing their self-perception on what they can do,” Fowler said.

“We like youth to think forward,” said Davis-Bulko. “With case managers, we help them map out their future. Some have clear goals, others don’t. We help them navigate their future.”

Interning can help

Ault has been interning in the Probate and Family Registry at the Greenfield District Court and at Baystate Franklin Medical Center. The courthouse job helped her learn state laws and how to communicate with the public. Her job at the Greenfield hospital exposes her to her future career path — nursing and gynecology.

Recently, she was accepted into the National Academy of Future Physicians, which will allow her to visit Washington D.C. to meet with Nobel Prize-winning physicians. Community Action will pay for the trip through its WIA fund, which is designated to help students engage in opportunities.

The training Ault receives at Youth Programs all leads to one end — graduation next spring and college at Mount Wachusett Community College in the fall to study nursing.

You can reach Kathleen McKiernan at: kmckiernan@recorder.com or 413-772-0261 ext. 268 On Twitter, follow @RecorderKatMcK

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