Project C.O.O.L. to Law School

Name: Leighton

High School: Lowell High School Class of 2011

Summer Job: Worked at Drew, Cooper & Anding law firm for the past 3 summers

Future Plans: Left for Howard University in Washington D.C. last week to pursue his undergrad degree before heading to law school.

Leighton is a Project C.O.O.L. veteran, just finishing up his 4th year in the program and on to bigger and better things as we speak (well, as you read). He is a fine example of what youth employment programs like Project C.O.O.L. can do for a young person. Hear more about Leighton’s experience in these few clips from my interview with him:

…summer jobs can help a young person decide what they’d like to do, realize what they don’t want to do and provide invaluable experience and networking opportunities that can help kick-start a career.

All the best to Leighton during his first week in D.C.!

1 Comment

Posted by on August 15, 2011 in Uncategorized


Tags: ,

Breaktime Bakery

Last week I visited the Breaktime Bakery at New City Neighbors where middle school kids are hard at work this summer baking cookies, cinnamon rolls, breads and more.

Name: Tiffany

Age: 12

School: Knapp Charter Academy

Summer Job: Bakery

Dream Job: Pediatrician

Favorite Subject: English

First I got to talk to Tiffany and she explained how the bakery operates. The kids come in from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday. When they arrive, they put on their aprons and hairnets, pick partners for the day and get to work on their first recipe. Each pair of two moves quickly from one recipe to the next until they have everything they need for the day. The store opens at 12:30 and the kids have different shifts, rotating who is working in the store and who is completing their other daily tasks.

What is your favorite thing about your job? Baking and sometimes being in the store because you get to  meet new people coming into the store. It’s kind of like a real job, you know, you get to do the cashier and then you have to pack them up, it’s kind of fun.

What do you think is the most important thing you learn while working? Math skills. Like measuring, knowing how much you have to put in to the recipe. And job skills. Eric [Executive Director] talks a lot about that. Like if you’re working a daily job, you can’t just stop in the middle and play something. He teaches us to keep working at it and to work with other people.

How do you think this will help you get a job in the future? This gives you a lot of experience of what’s ahead of you. If I had an interview to work in a bakery, I would already have experience of how it works so I would have an advantage.

Name: Avrey

Age: 10

School: Kenowa Hills Middle School

Summer Job: Bakery

Dream Job: Businessman

Favorite Subject: Science

Currently Baking: Cheddar Herb Bread

What is your favorite part of your job? Making recipes from scratch. The first time I did it I didn’t think it would turn out well, but I was able to make it great.

What do you learn here that will help you in school? Since we have a certain amount of ingredients, it helps me with math.

What does Eric teach you guys about job skills? He has high expectations for us, so you always have to keep trying.

What do you learn here that might help you when you’re a businessman? Since we do tasks, I do the store sometimes so I handle the money box and make sure people get the right amount back.

If you were at an interview for a job in high school and they asked you about a challenge you worked through at this job, what would you tell them about? One of the hardest recipes is cinnamon rolls because you have to make the dough, the frosting and the filling. So now I’ve had a lot of experience with these recipes and got better and better.

Name: Slater

Age: 12

School: Northview Crossroads

Summer Job: Bakery

Dream Job: Pro Wrestler

Favorite Subject: Science

What is your favorite part about your job? Learning to make new things and making new friends.

What do you learn here that will help you in the future? We learn how to deal with different types of problems. Like if someone messes up a recipe, they have to start all over. You might get a warning or fired in a real job. Here we can learn from our mistakes.

What have you learned here about job skills? Some kids don’t have jobs in the summertime. This would help you in your job later in life. It teaches you to wake up early in the summer and to get ready.

Some treats made it back with me to Grand Rapids Community Foundation and received rave reviews from our staff!

Thank you to all of the young bakers at Breaktime Bakery and job well done : )

And if you haven’t already, be sure to check out the video on our Facebook page to get a sneak peek into the Bakery.

Leave a comment

Posted by on August 3, 2011 in Uncategorized


Tags: , ,

Meet Another Member of the Y.E.S. Lawn Care Team

Name: Geraud

Age: 17

School: Union High School

Summer Job: Y.E.S. Lawn Care

Potential Career: Vet

Favorite Subject in School: English

This is Geraud’s 2nd year working for Y.E.S. Community Lawn Care. His friends recommended it to him last summer and he did it for the money at first but now he says there is much more to it than that. “We learn about God, go on college visits, go to the beach, learn from all the speakers that come in.”

What is your favorite part of your job? Meeting new people

What is the most important thing you’ve learned? Professionalism. When you’re cutting the grass and something happens that makes the customer angry, it may not have been you, but you need to show them respect and act professional.

How you could use those skills in the future? I think I might want to be a vet. Someone might come in worried with an injured pet and I would need to calm her down, show her respect and act professional.

What are some other skills you’ve learned here that will help you in the future? Chemical Bank taught us how to interview last year. They said it’s important to keep eye contact and not to be nervous.

What is your goal for this summer? I’ve always been named “Hardest Worker” on all of my sports teams and in school. I want to be known as the hardest worker here too.

Thanks to Geraud, Lindsey & Fred for sharing all of their experiences so far this summer!

Leave a comment

Posted by on July 27, 2011 in Uncategorized


Tags: ,

Guest Post, Y.E.S. Supervisor Lindsey

As of this week, the YES Program has hit its half-way point for the summer of 2011. After talking with some of the kids today, we were talking about how lucky we were to have such an incredible crew this summer. Perhaps it is because this is my crew so I am biased, but I really do think that they are above average in work ethic and character.

As with any group of high school students who are thrown together with the only things they have in common being the neighborhood they live in, or the mascot of Union High School where they attend together, it takes time to build those relationships in this new community. Though a lot of these kids knew of each other, they wouldn’t have considered each other to be friends. I am seeing now, as we are about to finish the fifth week together, that they genuinely enjoy each other. We as a group are laughing a lot more and talking about things that matter. I have even had the opportunity to see them holding each other accountable and encouraging each other to be on time and work hard. As I was talking to one of the workers, he said:

“You know Lindsey; some people think that this is just about mowing lawns, and that’s cool and all, but this is a lot more than that. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m proud to come to work and to be expected to work hard. I like feeling like I have something to offer in my neighborhood.”

That felt good to hear. This program is so much more than mowing lawns, it is about empowering these kids to see that they have something to offer, they have the abilities to be a valuable employee and to take pride in who they are and what they can accomplish. It is also very much about trying to expand their worldview, trying to get them to see past the space between Bridge Street and Park, so they can come back and see their streets with a different lens. And of course, the belly laughter that comes with is just a beautiful bonus.

As for the second half of the summer, we are jam packed visiting three more colleges, including my stomping ground, Hope College. As well as visiting with politicians and professionals in the West Michigan community and taking an afternoon to go to the beach and Michigan Adventure. We are going to set an afternoon aside to make resumes and prepare for our mock interviews at Chemical Bank the last week of the program. We are in the groove now, gotten past our learning curves, and are ready to buckle down and do some meaningful, lasting work together.


Y.E.S. Supervisor, The Other Way Ministries

Leave a comment

Posted by on July 25, 2011 in Uncategorized


Tags: ,


Name: Jalen                                                                                            Name: Ciara

Age: 16                                                                                                     Age: 17

School: East Kentwood High                                                               School: Ottawa Hills High School

Summer Job: Comprenew                                                                     Summer Job: Comprenew

Dream Job: Record Producer / Athlete                                               Dream Job: Engineer / Architect

Favorite Subject: English                                                                     Favorite Subject: Math

Yesterday I had a chance to talk to Jalen & Ciara, two youth employees at Comprenew Environmental, about what they like so much about taking apart computers and how this unique job will help them in the future.

Urban Garden

More from them in a moment, first a little more about their employer…

What I didn’t know when I arrived was that while Comprenew has often served as a work site for other youth employment programs [like for fellow grantees at the Hispanic Center and Steepletown], this is the inaugural year for Comprenew’s own program.

When Comprenew learned of this grant opportunity just last month, they had to scramble a bit to put something together. Now, less than a month since receiving the grant, they have gone through stacks of applications, conducted interviews and orientation and have 12 new youth employees on the payroll as of July 11. And that’s not all. The group will also go on “field trips” to a water treatment center and a landfill to expand their knowledge of sustainability, they have laid the foundation for an urban garden out back that will continue to be a part of the program in years to come and in a few weeks they will have the opportunity to build resumes and cover letters with the help of their supervisors Kyle & Blake.

As for the normal work days, Jalen, Ciara and their 10 teammates work from 10-3:30, Monday through Thursday disassembling computers so the parts can be properly recycled Talking to Jalen & Ciara, it was very clear how much they enjoy working at Comprenew…

Why do you like working here? 

Ciara: It’s productive. I’m a hands-on person and this work is very hands-on. There’s always something to do.

What important things did you learn about interviewing? [This was their first interview experience]

Jalen: Eye contact, stay positive with everything you say, answer questions right on target

In your next interview, what will you be able to tell them you learned here that will apply at a new job?

Jalen: Responsibility, coming here on time, punching in, punching out & being alert 

Ciara: Communication skills & being respectful

What is your favorite part about the job?

Jalen: The field trips, and I like working with computers and taking stuff apart

Ciara: I like everything about the job. You get to meet new people, take things apart and you’re learning at the same time.

Will this job help you in school this year?

Ciara: Yes, because it keeps me motivated. Get up, go to school, go to work. It’s getting me ready for the real world.

How do you think this will help you in the future?

Ciara:I want to be a mechanical engineer and an architect. We do landscaping and disassemble computers… so, this helps me a lot.

What have you learned this summer about balancing work with the rest of your life?

Ciara: Work is a priority to me. School and work. And family, that’s important.

Jalen: Work is a priority for me too. I’m going to be 17 in September and when I’m working and have money I can help my mom. Instead of asking her to give me money, I can help her pay the bills. I’m getting to that age, I need to help her out.

What is your ultimate goal? What do you want to get out of working here this summer?

Jalen & Ciara: A sense of accomplishment. We worked here every day and started the garden that will be here for a long time. We set a record for most disassembled computers in a week.

The work seems to be paying off already. With Comprenew now on his resume, Jalen just had an interview for another job. So good luck to him with his latest job opportunity! Although I know there is another job he would be interested in. Both Jalen and Ciara expressed interest in working at Comprenew full-time or during the school year.

And supervisor Kyle hopes this will be a possibilty:

“We would like to extend this, if we can, to an after-school program. As long as we can continue to fund this project, I want our own youth in here that we can kind of teach and mold and steer along, and that will open up more opportunities throughout the school year to talk about college and ask them “what do you want to do when you get out of high school?”

Leave a comment

Posted by on July 21, 2011 in Uncategorized



Employment Training Program at Wedgwood

This week I met up with Jackie who heads up the Employment Training Program (ETP) at Wedgwood Christian Services. Wedgwood provides residential treatment for teens who struggle with a wide range of physical, emotional and social issues. The kids live, go to school and (sometimes) work at Wedgwood while going through the different therapy or treatment programs.

“I would say this program is probably the biggest confidence booster for these kids. Once they’re in residential treatment, they have typically gone through several foster homes. They haven’t just been a normal kid.”

One of our greatest goals this summer is to provide youth with the irreplaceable skills you learn at your first job. Things like how to fill out an application, how to interview and how to communicate with your boss. And for the kids at Wedgwood, these are skills they likely would not have learned without the ETP, which walks them through each step of the job-hunting process and beyond.

First, the residents fill out an application and have an interview with Jackie. They are immediately given a feedback form to let them know how they did and where they could improve. Interviewees provide 3 references (Wedgwood staff) and Jackie checks those references to ensure they are doing well in school, therapy, etc.

Once hired, employees work their way up the four levels of the program:

1. Orientation

2. Trainee

3. Junior Apprentice

4. Senior Apprentice

Each level comes with a new set of goals and employees are evaluated each day. They must meet goals ranging from attendance and punctuality to appearance to cooperating with supervisors and team members. After two weeks of consistent good scores, they move up to the next level (which comes with more responsibility and higher expectations). After successfully completing Senior Apprentice status, the Wedgwood team helps the teen secure a minimum wage job out in the community.

I was very impressed with the program’s design. It seems they have thought of everything to make everything from application to resignation just like a “real job” (maybe even tougher).

So, what kind of work do the kids do?

In the work program, they do a lot of lawn service. There are about 90 homes they take care of on a regular basis. They do landscaping projects, help out with any clean up or other odd jobs on campus and hold car washes for staff. At their wood-shop, they build picnic tables, adirondack chairs, toy chests, birdhouses or whatever else comes their way. They even do upholstery! They keep all the cushions in the kids’ homes looking fresh.

“The funny thing is, most of the kids, if they are still at Wedgwood and get a job in the community, they still want to work for me. The program has given them the confidence they need and they don’t want to lose ties. They will communicate their community job hours to me and then on their days off I’ll schedule them to work a couple of hours here and there. The kids really have a sense of ownership to the program. We really put a lot of focus on how to be appropriate, how to be professional, how to handle conflicts, and I feel like they’ve learned so much that they don’t want to leave us short because they know how much work we have to do. They really have a sense of belonging and that just touches my heart because they haven’t belonged anywhere. So if they feel that good about stuff at work then I know once they get a job in the community they are really going to take ownership of that job… The responsibility they gain is unbelievable.”

Probably one of the best things about this program is how the kids learn to connect their work life to the rest of their life…

“I go to team meetings every week to hear how they are doing at home or at school. It might be a bad report and then they ask how they are doing at work, and it’s like we’re talking about 2 different kids. They discipline themselves for work but in other areas they don’t. That’s where I tie the two of them together. I need them to realize that work is very important, but you need to have your life together before you can be successful at work. And I would say 9 times out of 10 once they start working, the improvement in their overall social aspect of life improves greatly. If they flourish in that area, most likely they will flourish in other areas too.”

And how will this grant help?

“This grant is just a nice breath of fresh air”

The grant will basically ensure that she can pay the kids not only for the summer, but throughout the year. And with that stability, the program has an opportunity to grow. Jackie has a waiting list of customers looking for lawn service. Now she can hire more kids to take on that extra work.

The Employment Training Program at Wedgwood is an excellent example of how much youth gain from their first work experience. The program is about so much more than the kids earning some extra cash. It is about preparing them to be confident, independent adults that can provide for themselves once they’re out on their own.

Leave a comment

Posted by on July 14, 2011 in Uncategorized



Y.E.S. Community Lawn Care

The Youth Employment Service (Y.E.S.) Program at The Other Way Ministries is a 12-week summer program that gives local teens the opportunity to gain work experience and more through Y.E.S. Community Lawn Care. This week I caught up with Program Supervisor, Lindsey, and a few of the Y.E.S. employees to see how this summer is going…

Lindsey, Y.E.S. Program Supervisor

Lindsey is a senior at Hope College and this is her first summer working with the Y.E.S. program at “The Other Way.” She describes Y.E.S. as a multifaceted program: “Job skills and learning how to relate to bosses, co-workers and customers is a huge part of the program, but there is much more to it. The kids actually work 3 out of 5 days. One day we devote to character development,other days we go on college visits or have professionals from the community come in to speak. We bring in speakers to talk about things like making yourself employable or interview skills.”

Y.E.S.Community Lawn Care provides lawn care services to residents of Grand Rapids west side neighborhoods. Employees walk to customer homes with mowers and supplies from “The Other Way” Ministries, located on West Fulton.

Working on the Y.E.S. team gives teens a chance meet lots of people and lend a hand to those in their community. Y.E.S. Community Lawn Care offers their services at a discounted rate to customers over age 55 in hopes of helping to bridge the generational gap. “We want to show young people how they can help older folks in the community while helping older customers see them as good kids and hard, honest workers.”

Fred, Y.E.S. Assistant Supervisor

Meet a Y.E.S. Summer Employee…

Name: Fred

Age: 20

School: GRCC

Summer Job: Y.E.S. Lawn Care

Potential Career: Business

Favorite Subject in School: English

This summer marks Fred’s 5th year working for Y.E.S. This was his first job when he started as a freshman in high school and now has worked his way up to an Assistant Supervisor position.

Why have you kept coming back to work with the Y.E.S. program? It has kept me out of trouble and I get to do something I really like. I also come to youth group and other programs at “The Other Way.”

What is your favorite part about the job? Being around people in the community.When you are walking around in the Y.E.S. uniform, people notice and will say hello or bring you lemonade. It makes you feel really special.

What is the most important thing you’ve learned? Self-respect. We’ve learned a lot about self-respect and how you need to give others that same respect, which is important when working with our customers.

What you can you take from this job that will help you in future positions? I think I want to go into business because I can go out and talk to people about what I am doing and how it helps the community. [And he will be able to tell his future employers how he worked his way up to a leadership position]

What is your goal for this summer? To work my best and show the youth I am working with that it will help them in the future because your first job is very important no matter how small it is.

I will be back soon with more updates from the Y.E.S. Community Lawn Care team. Keep an eye out for their green shirts walking around the west side – they’re doing great work!

1 Comment

Posted by on July 6, 2011 in Uncategorized


Tags: ,