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YouthWork Spotlight : Creating Futures, Indeed. Article 1.

Updated: Aug 8, 2019

CFS welcomes guest blog writer, Nicole O'Brien, of the YouthWork program, to share her experience as YouthWork member.

YouthWork is a program of CFS that began as pilot program in February 2018 with just 7 youth. The pilot was successful and CFS was awarded an AmeriCorps grant in the summer to continue the program and build the program, with over 43 youth participating. YouthWork allows youth to develop important job skills and experience while exploring their strengths, aptitudes, and interests. The program helps youth and young adults gain an appreciation for the ecosystems that surround them and for the needs of their community. They learn that they have a voice and a stake in the future—their future.

We appreciate Nicole taking the time to document her adventures. Enjoy!

The sun’s rays plaster our faces as my coworkers and I stroll into a converted barn that now stands as a carpentry shop in Empire, Michigan. The shop has off white siding with black trim. I am welcomed by an older, hospitable gentleman, “Terry,” who heads the shop.

After a few minutes in the shop, I ask Terry what the crew members are doing. He explains they are building missing parts of a “kit house” found on Manitou Island. Kit houses were common 1940 homes, prepackaged to be assembled by their owners.

Buzzing sounds clash in my ears. Parked in the middle of the shop, I look on intently. To my left, crew member Joe Mahon is operating a sander, producing the buzzing sound.

On my right, crew member Patrick is operating what I would later learn is called a planer, producing a shearing noise. A planer trims the edges of wooden boards and gives them a smoother finish. I’m drawn to Patrick in particular. I feel the pride and aspiration that shines in his eyes as he puts boards through the planer, making sure not to trim too much off the edges.

My colleagues and I serve as AmeriCorps members through Child and Family Services (CFS). A mission of YouthWork is to assist children and youth in less fortunate environments. AmeriCorps is best described as a domestic Peace Corps. AmeriCorps supports the YouthWork Program by providing partial funding for our wages and offering us educational grants at the end of each term we serve.

My colleagues are contracted out to various nonprofit organizations and government entities to complete environmental restoration projects throughout the state in crews of 4-5.

I am power wheelchair-bound due to Cerebral Palsy. As a result, I am unable to meet the physical demands of environmental work. Therefore, I work in the office as a Program Assistant with my own assistant, Billie Jo. I was given the task of observing and interviewing crew members in order to write this blog. Knowing many crew members come from less fortunate environments, I expected to witness crew members struggle to take initiative. Still parked in the middle of the shop, watching Patrick put boards through the planer, I think to myself, MAN, WAS I WRONG. At YouthWork, there’s an inclusive, positive energy work environment, where disability discrimination, and low morale are nonexistent.

I decided I wanted to try and help Joe paint a window he had sanded. I use a tray for easier access. Quick on their feet, Joe and crew member John, painting one beside him, devised a way to elevate the window so I wouldn’t get paint on my tray while painting. John gladly took over as my assistant.

While interviewing my colleagues, one question I asked them is, “Do you have a motto for yourself?” Patrick’s response stuck with me: “Respect the past, create the future.” YouthWork creates futures for us, indeed.

To learn more about YouthWork click here.

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