From YouthNet, Inc. – Maplewood/South Orange:
YouthNet, the local nonprofit that provides programming to the teens of South Orange and Maplewood, has wrapped another year of its Summer Internship/Mentor Program. Seventeen Columbia High School students participated in the program that placed them in fourteen different businesses across South Orange and Maplewood. Participating mentors represented businesses in retail, nonprofit and government organizations furthering YouthNet’s mission to develop ways for CHS students to gather real world experience and exposure in an equitable way while also receiving guidance from their mentors.
Students who expressed an interest in the program had to complete a series of workshops earlier in the school year provided by YouthNet. These workshops, presented by South Orange Village Trustee Donna Coallier, provided training in areas such as appropriate behavior in the workplace, communication, interviewing techniques and resume building. Chloe Barter, a CHS junior who interned at the office of Maplewood Mayor, Dean Dafis, noted “the training workshops at the end of the school year enabled me to build a concise, effective resume and learn the basics of networking, skills that will prove essential to securing jobs in the future.”
After completing the workshops, students were surveyed about their interests and placed accordingly with a mentor/business that matched their preferences. In addition to mentors in the workplace, each student was also paired with a YouthNet Mentorship Supervisor for regular check-ins and who served as a point person for both businesses and students. ”I thought the internship program was helpful because I had no idea how to start or even get an internship. I also enjoyed working at my job and learning about the business”, reported Abby Pasternack, CHS sophomore intern at Brave Floral, an independent flower shop in Maplewood.
Student interns reported learning new skills relevant to their placements; organization, time management and interacting with employees and customers. Tamia Persaud, a CHS sophomore, spent part of her summer as a YouthNet intern at Kimaya Kama, a boutique in Maplewood Village. At Kimaya Kama, a women’s clothing store with unique finds from around the world, Tamia learned the ins and outs of running a small retail shop and the art of merchandising. “ I learned about all the merchandise in the store, what it was made of and even how it worked. I also learned about customer service.” Kimaya Salaskar Thakrar, owner of the shop feels that the YouthNet internship program offers the students a great opportunity to learn and grow. “Everyone is shy in the beginning, but conversational skills, the ability to communicate with others, is really important no matter what you do in life.”
YouthNet mentors reported that their interns were curious, asked questions and learned details of how the businesses/organizations work. The program also gave students a chance to try out a certain field of interest that could potentially lead to future employment. Jonathan Jarvis, co-owner of Pet Wants in South Orange and returning YouthNet mentor, reported,”I would do the program again. It is nice for us to have someone who could potentially become an employee learn what we do without a job commitment. I feel like it is a good program for young people to see if they like/not like a certain field of work in which they may have interest.”
The ultimate goal of the YouthNet Internship/Mentor Program is to facilitate a mutually beneficial experience for both the students and the mentors and to ensure equal access for students, where it may have not been possible before. “We truly enjoyed having someone as inquisitive and responsible as Abby” said Caitlin Cremer, Shop Operations Manager at Brave Floral. “She showed interest in every task we placed with her by asking apt questions and following guidelines precisely. We’d be happy to have her back in a part time position should she decide to do so in the future.” Valerie Rojas Braverman, Owner of Brave Floral added they “loved having someone so eager to learn”.
The program starts accepting applications each April. For more information about becoming an intern or mentor, and for a list of all 2022 mentors, visit http://somayouthnet.org or email Youthnetplus@gmail.com.