YouthWork: Connecting Youth to Community Service

If you’re a young adult, the question “what’s next?” can send an instant panic through your system. If you’ve had to face any special challenges, it can seem even more daunting.

YouthWork aims to answer that very question by empowering youth of all backgrounds through community service projects. The organization has offices in Traverse City, Harbor Springs and Gaylord but works on projects across Michigan.

“We work with students around the state who tend to face challenges at home or might be living with a a physical disability or developmental disability,” said Amanda Elliott, YouthWork AmeriCorps Director and Developmental Specialist.

“The whole purpose of the program is to provide these youth with job skills and training so that they can go on to be successful as adults, but then, at the same time, we’re also doing these projects for local communities. So our partners are nonprofit organizations, National Park Service, the DNR all these different groups who contract us to do these projects. It’s dual goals, dual benefit for sure.”

One of the more recent examples was a path one of the groups built at Sleeping Bear Dunes, one of the first to be added in nearly 15 years. “We built a mile and a half of that trail we made at a festival, built a viewing deck and then basically built this trail out of a hill. Digging it was a pretty incredible project,” said Elliott. “And our kids learned so much.”

YouthWork is an AmeriCorps program that offers membership to youth aged 16 up to 26. “Youth that go through the program receive what’s called a living stipend. That looks and feels like a paycheck … and then at the end of their term, they get a scholarship that they can use for college or vocational training school, anything like that,” Elliott explained.

Each member is divided into a crew that they work with for the duration of their term. Terms generally run for nine or 18 weeks, depending on if the member is in school or not. Each member is expected to complete 300 service hours so it may take 18 weeks if he or she is a student.

“Of course, we never want someone to leave early. If they finish it up, then that’s great, but the whole purpose of this is to find them a great job once they become an adult so we leave the program to go work for local Parks and Rec departments or profit from the area,” said Elliott.

The YouthWork program offers a career starting point for youth who may have had to overcome major life challenges.

“This kind of just gives them that next step. We saw that need and we also heard from our local partners, that there’s a backlog of projects all around the state from the DNR to the national federal agencies. This meets both of those needs. And it’s been super successful so far,” Elliott said.

These service projects don’t just benefit youth. Many local organizations and partners see and experience firsthand the high quality of work they receive too.

“We get great feedback from our partners and we’ve had a lot of partners rehire us for projects, which just shows that we’re doing a great job. Not only do they love seeing these kids and how excited they get and what pride they take in their work, but they also get quality products from the service that we provide. It is top notch,” reflected Elliott.

If you are interested in becoming a YouthWork member or partnering with a crew to complete a local project, you can contact Amanda Elliott at (231) 313-8002 or [email protected]

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Photo courtesy of YouthWork

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