125 Western Mass. teens gain real world work experience through YouthWorks program

17 Aug

HOLYOKE – Reinaldo Guzman memorized the floor plan of Holyoke Medical Center this summer while working as a transporter in the radiology department.

The reason was obvious, if he was told to get a patient from point A to point B, he had to know where A and B are.

Guzman, a student at Paulo Freire Social Justice Charter School, said his other lessons — including respect and communications, were just as important during his time at Holyoke Medical Center, where he also worked in other departments such as building maintenance.

“You always have to do what is easiest for the other person, not for yourself,” he said. “Always introduce yourself and tell people where they are going.”

CareerPoint in Holyoke honored employers and worksites Wednesday for helping it to provide summer job experiences to 125 young people. The event, at Gateway City Arts on Race Street, included testimonials from students and employers as well as a picnic lunch on the center’s terrace.

Karen Robert, Holyoke Medical Center’s Community Benefits Coordinator, said the hospital provided mentoring and structure for the young workers. It often gives the high school students their first taste of the working world.

“We have been really very impressed by their enthusiasm,” she said. “It’s a great experience.”

Two of the workers, both out of high school already, will stay on with the hospital. One will work as a switchboard operator and one at the admissions desk.

At the beginning of summer, the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County received $1.1 million in state money for its Summer youth Works programs. The money was dispersed through the Valley Opportunity Council, Westfield High School, CareerPoint, and the New England Farm Workers Council.

It was enough to put 1,000 young people between the ages of 14 and 21 to work this summer across Hampden County.

At CareerPoinit, its share was enough to provide jobs for 75 teens, said Gladys Lebron-Martinez, youth service director at CareerPoint. Additional positions were funded by private donations.

Workers were ages 14 to 21 and each received 125 hours of experience over 6 weeks. Most made $9 an hour, but those in construction, landscaping and who worked as site supervisors get more, Lebron-Martinez said. Besides work, participants also did classroom workforce readiness training, she said.

Gary Rome of Gary Rome Hyundai has donated money to the program and has had six of the workers at his dealership over the past three years. They’ve done everything from filing in the office to landscaping and painting. Two of the six were later hired permanently.

He said he is paying back the support the community has shown to him.

“We are growing and planning for our future,” Rome said. “And we want to help these young people grow and plan for their futures.”

Other work sites included the Holyoke Housing Authority and the city buildings department.