Work Preserve Program Trains Local Youth
by Alphonse Pieper and Sara Johnson

June 11, 2014 | ITHACA JOURNAL

James joined Historic Ithaca’s Work Preserve job training program after he was unable to succeed in school or work. For six months, he learned to repair chairs, refurbish door hardware and work as part of a team, developing social skills for employment. Today, he is employed in local industry.

Keira completed our 12-week Work Preserve program after being referred to us by Tompkins County’s Department of Social Services. She, too, had few options left for her future and worked with us to develop retail and job readiness skills at Significant Elements. Today, she is employed by two local businesses.

In Work Preserve, participants like James and Keira are putting new-found skills and strengths into action and seeing firsthand how their efforts generate new business in our retail store. For most, they are succeeding in a workplace for their first time.

Nationwide teenage unemployment remains high at 21 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. For individuals of any age who do not have a high school education, unemployment stands at 9.8 percent. Both figures are even higher among those who face additional barriers to employment, such as physical or mental disabilities or substance abuse.

In the search for local solutions, Historic Ithaca is one of several nonprofit organizations that help young people become job-ready. Our Work Preserve program, now marking its fourth year, underscores that good outcomes are possible when we work one-on-one with youth. Low-cost, small initiatives like ours result in tangible benefits to individuals and our community.

In 2010, we started training youth and young adults in preservation and trade skills such as furniture repair, carpentry and hardware repair. We also teach retail service skills at our Southside Significant Elements store. With support from Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency and the Park Foundation, we work with up to eight participants at a time, who are referred to us through local social service agencies. We work closely with each participant to develop job and work-related skills, and while doing so they learn to appreciate historic buildings and neighborhoods.

In the past year, over 30 percent of participants transitioned to full employment or to additional job-readiness programs.

Penny Romantic of Ithaca’s Youth Employment Services considers young people she refers to us as “diamonds in the rough.” Some face learning disabilities on top other difficult life circumstances. Food insecurity, lack of transportation, and affordable housing are additional challenges. But she has seen firsthand how Work Preserve can make a difference.

“It is amazing to watch teens and young people progress and go on to gainful employment,” she says. “And Work Preserve has never turned away a teen I have referred to them.”

Helping young people succeed is built on incremental successes, one day at a time. Staff educator Karen Coleman says, “We work with participants to build proficient life and job skills. And we make sure to catch them being successful.”

Our participants have also boosted our bottom line. Their products and efforts have helped to increase our overall sales — revenue that supports Historic Ithaca’s preservation, education and advocacy efforts.

It’s the start of more to come, and we are eager to continue to build on our strong foundation. Stop in Significant Elements and Historic Ithaca any time to meet our participants and see the products they have created or restored.

Pieper is executive director of Historic Ithaca. Johnson is Historic Ithaca’s Work Preserve manager.

ID_Code: CB-306100058 (ProQuest)

 Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.
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