Learning and earning: Center helps at-risk teens, young adults connect with training, jobs

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Photo by Sue Suchyta
Alyssa Mexico, 19, of Wyandotte, uses a computer Wednesday at the Southgate Service Center of the Southeastern Michigan Community Alliance, a Michigan Works partner, to complete her General Educational Development process, which will enable her to move on to other job training.

By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers

SOUTHGATE – Boredom and hope for a job brought high school dropout Alyssa Mexico, 19, of Wyandotte to the Southeastern Michigan Community Alliance, a Michigan Works! partner here earlier this month.

“I got tired of sitting at home and doing nothing,” Mexico said. “I couldn’t find a job, so I came here, (I am) more happy, less depressed, It’s helped me out a lot.”

A federally-funded program, the SEMCA Michigan Works! Southgate Service Center, at 15100 Northline Road, offers workforce development activities through statewide and local organizations.

The program’s purpose is to increase employment, job retention, earnings and occupational skills while improving the quality of the workforce and reducing welfare dependency.

The youth program, for 14- to 21-year-old participants who meet Workforce Investment Act federal guidelines — based on family income and other factors — offers General Educational Development classes and tutorials, career assessment, resumé preparation, interview coaching and job search assistance, plus life skills guidance and paid work experience.

The paid work experience is temporary employment for youth, lasting up to three months, that might lead to permanent employment. It helps students earn money and learn skills while increasing their employment history.

Mexico is glad to have help filling out job application forms, which she said she finds scary.

“I don’t want to fill out my applications wrong,” Mexico said. “I’m just new to it so I’m not really sure what to do. I’m very bad filling out applications.”

Mexico, who said family instability, frequent moving and lack of transportation prompted her to drop out of high school, is now working on her GED using computers at the center, which she hopes will lead to job training, employment and perhaps college.

Her short-term goal is to find any job to earn money, but eventually she would like to work in a health career with animals or people.

“My one dream was to be a vet tech or a zoologist or something, because I really want to work with animals,” Mexico said. “But I have been thinking about nursing lately. I haven’t made up my mind exactly.”

Certified nursing assistant training, a short-term training program offered by the American Red Cross, a program Mexico might pursue, helped another young adult with two small children train for and find a job quickly.

Alexa (last name withheld at her request), 21, of Lincoln Park, has two children, ages 3 and 1.

She said she dropped out of high school to help pay bills when she was pregnant, but later realized she needed a high school diploma or GED to get a decent job and to raise her children.

When an aunt told her about Michigan Works!, she said that the program staff encouraged her to get her GED and pursue a dream job in nursing.

She said Lynette Massey, a career development facilitator for the youth program at the center helped her with challenges beyond the GED and CNA training.

“She has helped me with random questions,” Alexa said of Massey. “She has always been there to support me. Anytime I come there, anyone on the staff, they’re nice. They help me.”

She said Massey made her realize that being a parent did not limit her options and helped her become more self-confident.

“Lynette made me realize that just because I have kids it may take a little longer,” Alexa said, “but I can keep going to show them and to provide more for them.”

Mexico also has found the staff support to be essential to her success.

“The people are very friendly here,” Mexico said. “They’re not mean like most people would think they would be. You feel very comfortable around here. It’s like you are at home. You can act yourself around them and not feel like a fool.”

Staff support was crucial for one of Lisa Nagy’s first clients, a youth who had substance abuse issues. As a youth career development facilitator, Nagy helped keep the client on track by encouraging him to attend a support group for substance abuse while she helped him get 15-week machinist training at Focus: HOPE in Highland Park.

“When he got his six-month chip (for the support group) we recognized his success,” Nagy said.

She said he now has a job, and is very appreciative for their support.

“Sometimes for youth they get a little bit frustrated because they feel that employers sometimes have a bad attitude about hiring young people,” Nagy said. “I think that’s one of the hardest things, for kids to kind of sell themselves, with the competitive market, with all of the adults that are unemployed, who have more education than some of the youth.

“I think that is kind of a struggle for the younger kids because the older adults are getting the jobs that (the youth) once had.”

The staff said they help young people learn valuable life skills as well, such as learning to navigate bus routes, opening a checking account, comparative shopping and budgeting their resources. They keep a supply of used clothes on site for youth who need clothes beyond T-shirts and jeans for job interviews and work.

Nagy added that the staff focus on helping youth at risk, who have a barrier that might keep them from getting a job or getting additional education, such as pregnant or parenting youth, drop-outs, the homeless and runaways.

“The ultimate goal is to help people obtain employment,” program manager Lisa Wayne said. “That is our bottom line: to be employed in a way that is self-sufficient. So that’s our goal.”

For more information on SEMCA Michigan Works!, call 734-362-7070 or go to www.semca.org.

In Dearborn, Michigan Works! is at the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services, at 6451 Schaefer Road. For more information, call 313-945-8380 or go to www.accesscommunity.org.

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