FORT BELVOIR, Va. -- Fort Belvoir youth, ages 15-18, can gain real-life work-experience through the Child, Youth and School Services HIRED! Program.
Youth who participate in the program work 15 hours a week for 12 weeks at a selected program office or department on post. There are four terms per year, one each in the fall, winter, spring and summer.
Van Noy Library, the Kawamura Arts & Crafts Center, Auto Skills Shop, Frame Shop, the Bowling Center, as well as Fire and Emergency Services, are a few of the offices and departments on Belvoir that participate in the program.
The biggest advantage participants come away with after finishing the program is what they learn about themselves, according to Wendy O'Sullivan, Workforce Preparation Specialist and Hired Program Coordinator for CYSS.
"Their confidence increases," said O'Sullivan. "They get more confident with eye contact. They learn the little things that we know as adults, but once you get that, it's kind of like the sky's the limit. As teenagers, they are so influenced by negative peer pressure that these opportunities take them out of that and put them in the adult world."
One student said he noticed an increase in his confidence as well as his attention to detail since starting the program.
"Before, I might have overlooked something with my schoolwork," said Andre Moss, 17, a senior at Mount Vernon High School, who has been employed at the Frame Shop for the past eight months. "But, now that I'm at the Frame Shop paying attention to detail, I have a tendency to review my school work and catch mistakes I didn't see beforehand."
Each participant receives a mid-term and end-of-term progress report from their employer. O'Sullivan receives the reports and then reviews them with each participant. Moss said his reports thus far have been very positive since he has been able to pick up tasks at the Frame Shop when others have been unable to get to them.
"My progress reports have said I keep on task," Moss said. "Whenever someone at the shop hasn't had time to do something I've been able to complete the task for them."
LaTarryl Hall, also a senior at Mount Vernon, completed two terms at the Youth Center her sophomore year of high school. She said she learned "basic skills that are taken for granted in the workforce" like computer skills, how to put together a power point presentation and customer service skills.
She also said she learned the importance of being punctual.
"If I was given a deadline as far as when my hours were supposed to be turned in, or what workshops I was supposed to attend," said Hall. "I made sure I did and showed up for those things in a timely manner."
The importance of building a solid resume and how to properly organize a resume is another skill that O'Sullivan said most participants learn while in the program. Hall said it's one skill she, too, learned.
"I hadn't really focused on my resume before I got into the program," said Hall. "The program taught me to focus on my resume and add more to it each year. If I participate in any activity I add it to my resume. At the end of my senior year I'm going to break it down to more important things so it doesn't look unorganized."
Each participant is required to attend six workshops offered through CYSS during the duration of their term. O'Sullivan said one of the most beneficial workshops is the "this is your life" workshop which asks where each participant wants to be in 10 years as far as their lifestyle.
O'Sullivan said many of the teens choose fancy lifestyles that include living in big houses and driving fancy sports cars. She also said once they find out the education level required to make that kind of money, many of them start changing their minds.
"For some of them all they want is an associate's degree," said O'Sullivan. "For those kids, they find out there are no jobs to support the lifestyle they want. So, then they all go back and make adjustments to their lifestyle and they find out they still need at least a bachelors degree to support their projected lifestyle. They all say afterwards they didn't realize life was so expensive."
Hall said she recommends anyone participate in the program because of the real-life skills and lessons that are learned.
"It definitely opens your eyes," said Hall. "You're gaining experience and every 15 year old I know would join this program if they knew exactly what you learn from it."