An additional 827 income-eligible Massachusetts youth age 14-21 have a chance to work, learn and thrive with us this spring. Thanks to the summer success of Commonwealth Corporation’s virtual YouthWorks career development program and ongoing support from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, YouthWorks programming will open to a much larger number of opportunity youth in spring 2021 as part of our new endeavor to build and offer a flexible, virtual and hybrid YouthWorks year-round program.
This past spring when Covid-19 limited the possibilities for traditional summer programming, Commonwealth Corporation resolved to find a way to provide the YouthWorks program to nearly 4,000 youth, many of whom would need to participate directly from their homes. That meant redesigning our delivery model, building new resources, systems and practices and increasing local program capacity and support. We also retooled our signature Signal Success career readiness curriculum toward a hybrid model: while instructors continued to lead live lessons, youth were able to complete a new set of online self-paced individual lessons. Seasoned educators and coaches taught over 550 live virtual workshops and hundreds of career professionals volunteered to participate in virtual career exploration panel discussions and project advisor sessions, providing much-needed points of connection and one of the most often mentioned highlights by the youth participants.
It took a dedicated village of partners and collaborators, and a continuous learning curve on our part, but all told, the summer YouthWorks program was a clear success. Teens demonstrated high levels of virtual engagement, made relevant gains in transferrable skills such as online project management and professional communication, an
d learned about career pathways by connecting with professionals and online occupational skills training. Peer Leaders even designed the final weeks of Signal Success workshops.
At the end of summer, 350 youth participants submitted essays, videos, art and other project-based learning products to our 2020 YouthWorks Scholarship Contest — then cheered for each other at their statewide virtual showcase.
Winners included youth-built websites, witty videos, in-depth interviews, thoughtful narratives, social media campaigns and this drawing by a South Shore participant who says, “In my artwork, there are three children walking on a pathway, with the children coming from different backgrounds representing diversity. The pathway splitting into two represents life and the multiple decisions people need to make later on. Although life could be difficult, the nature/garden around them reminds people of the beauty that life has to offer.”
Building on Success
In addition to skill acquisition and an income, participants noted unexpected benefits such as virtually connecting with other teens around the state in a meaningful way and expressed gratitude for routine, connection and meaningful work – all so important for mental health. A participant from Lowell says, “Not everything in life goes the way you expect it to go and sometimes the most unexpected things end up being some of the most rewarding or wonderful things.”
We couldn’t agree more. At Commonwealth Corporation we also noted an unexpected benefit to this summer’s pivot – we now find ourselves positioned to build on what was initially a whirlwind evolution of YouthWorks programming. Keeping with practice, as we moved into fall we convened with partners to reflect on and discuss our collective takeaways from our collaborative challenges and effort. Together with these partners, we are now continuing the work by sharing best practices and lessons learned through trainings and more broadly such as this recently released United States Department of Labor webcast. We are thrilled that YouthWorks continues to grow and benefit so many.