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April 12, 2012 / HandsOnCorps

Volunteering: An Opportunity to Not Only Build Communities but Resumes!

Although my position falls into the HandsOn Network, most of my work revolves around increasing basic needs access and employment opportunities for the youth served by HOME Youth and Resource Center. HOME is a drop-in day shelter which meets the basic needs of and provides services to homeless and at risk youth ages 11-17, 18 if still in school. The opportunities for VISTA work are pretty abundant here: using the neighboring model I am working to increase and improve volunteering at HOME by community members and working to increase volunteerism by the youth who access HOME’s resources.

In addition to the obstacles most youth face in entering the work force, the youth at HOME often come from unstable (both emotionally and/or financially) family situations and environments. In order to increase HOME youth employment, which can often be seen as a stepping stone out of the cycle of poverty, I am working to create a volunteer work experience internship program which allows youth to volunteer in specific areas which will give them skills sought by employers. As a group, youth face one of the highest rates of unemployment in the country and teens with no employment background are at higher risk for unemployment or low wage jobs in the future. By volunteering in specific areas which enable job skill development teens can increase their chances for future employment.

Working in partnership with the public senior day center, HOME youth are volunteering in janitorial services, as baristas in the café and helping with special events. The internships stress the importance of punctuality, commitment, and communication with supervisors and, in this way, build important job practices in addition to the practical skills gained in the area of focus.

A couple of months ago, I accompanied four female youth to their first professional interview with the manager of the senior center. For these four girls, the interview was exciting and a little bit scary! As we rode public transit to the center, there were lots of last minute questions and nervous chatter followed by periods of silence. After Emily,* the first to be interviewed, finished and came back to the lobby I saw firsthand the wealth of knowledge and experience she had gained just from the one interview. She immediately reflected on what went well, how she shook hands with the manager twice and how she would go about the interview in the future. She was excited and proud; it was a truly great moment to see. The same proved true for the rest of the youth. Everyone was proud to have made it through and full of ideas for future improvements. Since the initial interview, three more youth have expressed interest in the work experience internships and have also had the first professional interview experience.

Volunteering has been marketed as a resume builder for some time now but it is also important to remember just how many positive assets volunteering can offer, especially to youth who are short on experience and in this case face a myriad of challenges in their lives. Something as simple as helping at a senior center becomes much more than just “giving back” to the community; it becomes the first step along a path of success.

Molly Schreiner

HandsOn Corps VISTA – HandsOn Mid Willamette Valley, HOME Youth & Resource Center

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