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Summer youth job program kicks off

Date: 5/15/2015

WESTFIELD – The Regional Employment Board of Hampden County celebrated its 2015 Summer Jobs Program Kickoff at Shaker Farms Country Club on May 8.

The YouthWorks Summer Jobs Program helps place local teenagers and young adults in summer jobs with employers in Western Massachusetts. This year’s goal is to place 1,000 people in summer jobs.

Elected officials and employers attended the kickoff, including Westfield Mayor Daniel Knapik, Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, state Sen. Don Humason, state Rep. John Velis, Westfield City Council President Brian Sullivan and former Westfield Mayor Rick Sullivan. Representatives from Shaker Farms Country Club and Noble Hospital also spoke. The event was hosted by Cleveland Burton, the Hampden County Youth Council chair.

The speakers stressed the importance of summer jobs play in teaching responsibility and how to carry oneself in the workplace.

Velis said his first job at Pizza Town in Westfield taught him skills that he uses daily in his role as a state representative. He encouraged timeliness, collaboration, dressing appropriately for the job and being honest.

Rick Sullivan said though he has been a public figure for many years, there are still people who recognize him as a lifeguard, his first job.

“Those first jobs are significant because they certainly can have a big impact on you, the employee, but you understand really quick that you can have some impact on other people’s lives at a very early age in those very first few jobs,” Sullivan said. “You have a chance her to make a first impression, and I think that is ultimately what is most important, that very first impression.

“It will be remembered by people, people you may not even remember or know at that the time that you’re making that first impression but it will come back to you a couple of years later or a generation later.”

YouthWorks is a not only a chance for teens and young adults to earn some extra money over the summer, Burton said. The work helps to keep youth of trouble that plagues the communities, whether it is violence or drug use, he said.

“Our job is to take these idle minds, idle hands and put them to work in a job experience that changes their lives and ours,” Burton said.

Putting kids to work is one of the most important responsibilities of the community, Knapik said.

“The most important thing, from my perspective, that a community does for its children is to provide an educational opportunity, and the word really is about opportunity,” Knapik said. “We do the best that we can, but after that, the best thing we can do as a community for you is provide a work opportunity.“

Both Laura Smigel, the Noble Hospital vice president of Community Development and Marketing, and Nancy Kotowitz, co-owner of Shaker Farms Country Club, said they enjoy having the workers on board. They encouraged other area employers to do the same and give the youth a chance to work.    

Kat Okhrimenko of Westfield Vocational Technical High School and Karla Contin of Holyoke Community College both participated in the program and said it helped them become more confident.

Okhrimenko worked in the Westfield City Hall in the Health Department; it was her first job.

“It not only gave me something to do for the summer, it not only gave me experience in work, it also helped me find myself,” she said. “I really gained a lot from this experience, learned a lot about what I can do and who I am. The program helped me find my first job and it made me more confident in myself.”

Contin came to the United States from the Dominican Republic as a “shy girl.” After participating in the YouthWorks program, Contin said she is a “different person.”

She is working toward her dream of becoming a plastic and reconstructive surgeon and is enrolled in Holyoke Community College for the fall.

“I can say today that I am so proud of myself because I am closer to my dream than I was before,” she said. “This program changed my life and I think it change so many lives. Young people deserve the chance to prove that they are reliable and responsible, and not only in the work environment, in their lives too.”

Those who participate in the YouthWorks summer jobs program earn $9 an hour and work for 125 hours over six weeks. For more information about the program, visit the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County’s website at