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Program pairs students with employers in need
BY SARAH ELMS August 14, 2016
TRAVERSE CITY — On the first day of her summer job Lanaya Hansen and her three co-workers kept to themselves. They only spoke when it was necessary to complete the task at hand.
“It was a little nerve-wracking to work with new people,” said Hansen, 19. “But then I got used to it.”
After eight weeks working together — cleaning, painting and picking up trash at Keith J. Charters Traverse City State Park — the group is more than just used to each other. They’ve become close friends, even camping together at the very site they work so hard to clean up.
They’re all students in the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District’s Youth Works training project, which pairs teens and young adults with disabilities with local businesses struggling to hire summer help.
The state park is one of 19 partner job sites that provide 83 students with part-time employment and real-life, on-the-job experience. Tim Schreiner, a district supervisor for the DNR’s parks and recreation division, called the program a win-win. The students learn valuable skills that they can market later in life, and he gains the employees he desperately needs.
“We, like almost every storefront in Traverse City, have a ‘help wanted’ sign up,” he said. “Having these crews come and help us is fantastic.”
The students, age 16 to 26, come from Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska and Leelanau counties. They learn skills in manufacturing, hospitality and general maintenance and are coached on how to fill out a time card, request time off and dress appropriately for the job.
“We really try to create those real-world norms,” said John Sandula, a transition teacher with the ISD who works to connect students to job sites year-round.
He said the Youth Works program’s ultimate goal is to help students gain independence. Many who have completed the program now live on their own and hold full-time jobs, he said.
Markku Smith, 17, said he first signed up for the program to gain job experience but has learned much more than that. In eight weeks he has gained confidence and communication skills, and he learned to build positive relationships with new people.
“I would usually be by myself and less social,” Smith said. “I get to be outside here with good people and not be worried and have fun with friends.”