Grant to help at-risk youth with work skills

BENNINGTON — For over 30 years, the Sunrise Family Resource Center has been working to transform the lives of local "at risk" youth by providing educational and vocational programs, community support, and real world experience.

This year, Sunrise has been awarded a Summer Employment Opportunity (SEO) Grant by the Vermont Department of Labor for the 11th time in pursuance of that goal.

"They come into our program and receive work experience, for which they are paid through the grant from the Vermont Department of Labor," said Amelia Silver, development director for Sunrise. "They work in the morning and get pre-vocational skills, and then the academic part of the program is in the afternoon."

The SEO is a six-week work experience and education program for out of school youth who are aging out of foster care, are pregnant or parenting, or meet other criteria established by the Department of Labor. Sunrise's program, Opportunities to Work, is built upon resources from three Sunrise services: Opportunities, a teen parent education/work experience program; Job Club, a work readiness program; and the Youth Development Program (YDP), a program for youth transitioning out of foster care.

"The majority of our students are on site doing work experiences, but we always have some placements in the community," said Silver, explaining on-site culinary, gardening, and administrative placements. "If they've done the program here for a few summers, or if they've been enrolled in school here, they can be placed in the community because we know that they're ready for that next step."

This summer fifteen youth have been placed in paid work experiences with onsite Sunrise mentors in the Early Care and Education program, the lunch program, the gardens at Sunrise and at Hiland Hall at the Park McCullough House, as well as in the Bennington community at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, Center for Living and Rehabilitation, Bringing You Vermont, and a local home child care provider.

"It's really exposure to the next phase of their lives, which is going to be the adult world of work and sustaining themselves," said Silver. "It's in a safe environment, so they're supported by their Sunrise mentors."

Students receive instruction in soft skills such as professional attire, language, timeliness, cell phone use, and communication skills. In addition, local business leaders and educators offer workshops at Sunrise on budgeting, establishing credit, banking, nutrition, safe relationships, dental hygiene, substance abuse, family planning, and apartment maintenance among others.

"These young people who are involved in our summer program tend to get employed and finish school if they can," said Silver. "This gives them a leg up, and it gives the community young people who are engaged and want to work."

For students, the program provides a path to achieving their goals despite the obstacles they may face along the way.

"My biggest goal now is just to graduate and find a job quickly after, and maybe eventually go to community college," said Emily Morse, who aspires to work with children one day. "My child is in the Early Care and Education program, so I get to see her whenever I want which is the biggest upside. If I have a family issue or something going on at home they're understanding of that, and keep that in mind with my attendance."

"I want to be a police officer, so I really want to complete college," said Jasmine Kobel, who is ecstatic to attend CCV. "I'm here because I want to learn more about job opportunities, and what you do at a job and how to behave."

Through the program, students can also earn high school credits for reading and writing each afternoon under the guidance of Opportunities Program Coordinator, Laura Mack, who is also an instructor at the Community College of Vermont (CCV).

"This is my 35th year in education, and one of the things I really love about Sunrise is it's the one place where you can really see education making a real difference," said Mack. "It will make a big difference in these kids life both financially and intellectually to get a high school diploma. They don't take it for granted."

Reach Cherise Madigan at 802-490-6471.


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