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Summer Youth Program Prepares Teens for Employment

They weren’t quite magic beans, but they did open up a new world.  As Debbie Grant held the 16-ounce can of baked beans in the aisle at Kroger, four teenagers huddled around her, peering at the can’s label and hanging on her every word.

“It was an ‘aha’ moment,” explained Grant, who is director of development for Goodwill Career Solutions.

She explained that the teens, who were participants in Goodwill’s Summer Youth Job Readiness Program, had never shopped for their own groceries before. The concept of comparison shopping was especially new to them, and they were amazed to learn that in this case it was more economical to buy three small cans of beans than one industrial-sized can.

“This teaches them how to best spend their money, to recognize cost-per-unit and how to budget. We’re also teaching them about nutrition, because we want them to be healthy. These are skills that are going to help them in life and when they get a job.”

Later, the young people returned to Goodwill’s Nashville headquarters, where they experienced another first — cooking and eating a meal using the groceries they had purchased with the guidance of a nutritionist. It was all part of the recipe of the summer youth program, which aims to prepare young Davidson County adults, ages 14-18, for the working world.

During two month-long sessions in June and July, 24 program participants enjoyed numerous engaging and educational activities, such as CPR certification classes, volunteering at Second Harvest Food Bank, ice skating and touring Belmont University, a fire station and the Frist Center for the Visual Arts.

They also were visited by guest speakers. One, a Metro Nashville police officer, asked each of the young people about their career goals. Their answers were often specific and ambitious: environmental engineer, emergency physician, forensic psychologist.

Elijah, a 14-year-old sophomore at Hillsboro High School, got an unexpected, first-hand introduction to his ideal profession. When his grandfather’s doctor told him about the Goodwill summer youth program, he had pictured sitting in a classroom all day with no breaks.

“Until I saw the schedule. It said we would visit Channel 5 News, and that was the first thing I was looking forward to, because I want to be a sports broadcaster,” Elijah said.

At the TV station, Elijah was impressed by the studio, with its green screen for graphics, video screens built into the news desks and robotic cameras with teleprompters. A Channel 5 employee even showed him where the sports broadcasters worked.

“I thought it was awesome,” he said. “I’d really like to do something like that.” 

The summer youth program, which is sponsored by Goodwill and the Metropolitan Development Housing Agency of Nashville and Davidson County, offers more than entertainment, though. The teens were sometimes pushed well beyond their comfort zones. On one day, they sat down for mock job interviews with professionals from Deloitte Consulting LLP.

Marqualus, a sophomore at East Nashville Magnet High School, admitted having some anxiety before his turn. “I’m nervous about overcoming it,” he said. But he garnered praise from his two interviewers for his energy and responses to questions such as, “What have you learned about yourself?” and “What are some areas you could improve on?” Their main suggestion: Don’t be afraid to sell yourself.

“Working with people is a really good skill, but there are other things an employer might be interested in, like your attention to detail, or getting the job done or being a perfectionist,” said Deloitte Solutions Architect Adnan Hashmi.

Fifteen-year-old Amiyah was singled out for a special honor. All of the participants prepared short speeches about their experiences which they delivered during a “graduation” ceremony on the program’s last day. But she was asked to deliver her speech one other time — to the board of directors of Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee.

“It was really awkward because I never met those people before,” Amiyah said. “I wanted to do a great job, but I was very nervous and didn’t think I was going to be able to do it.” Amiyah came through with flying colors, Grant said.

On program graduation day, Good Life Training Manager Samuel Smith congratulated participants on how far they had come in such a short time and encouraged them to continue pushing themselves to greater achievements. He paraphrased author Norman Vincent Peale: “Shoot for the sky in everything you do, and even if you miss you still will land among the stars.”

Like most other participants, Amiyah said at graduation that her favorite part of the program was the friendships she had made. “I’m sad,” she said. “It feels like it was over really quickly.”

Read the Fall 2015 edition of The Ambassador – Goodwill’s quarterly magazine which provides readers with stories of events, activities and the inspiring changes Goodwill is making in the lives of others.

About Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee, Inc.

For more than 55 years Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee has provided job training and job placement free of charge to people with disabilities or other barriers to employment through the sale of donated items. In 2014, Goodwill served 28,159 people in Middle and West Tennessee and placed 9.558 people in jobs. More information about Goodwill’s Career Solutions, retail stores and donation centers can be obtained online at  www.giveit2goodwill.org or by calling 1-800-545-9231

Learn more about all of Goodwill Career Solutions – Programs and Services  

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