Highland Youth Employment Program Update

Josh Umar, Youth and Business Resource Coordinator for The Highland Center, recently gave us an update on the status of the 2016 Youth Employment Program.

“Well, it’s going really well this year, as it has really for many years. A lot of people think of the Farmers’ Market as The Highland Center’s flagship program, and it is, but we’ve been running Youth Employment almost as long, and it’s very well integrated  in the community now. This year marks the 15th anniversary of us running the program, and it’s another strong year – really, really growing rapidly. I would say, extremely quick growth. We had 14 young people in the program last year, and they worked at seven different worksites. This year we have 18, and they’re at 20 different worksites. Some kids in the program even have more than one job that they’re working this year, so the number of worksites in 2016 has almost tripled over what it was in 2015.”

Mr. Umar noted what makes the program a success.

“We could not run the Youth Employment Program without local help, and people who are willing to fund the program. We have great donors, as we do most every year. This year, Blue Grass, Mill Gap and Bolar Ruritans helped donate; the Lions’ Club in Monterey; the school; the Board of Supervisors; Community Foundation of Central Blue Ridge; and some anonymous donors out there, you know who you are – have all helped contribute to help pay the student wages. And that’s something that Highland County, in my mind, ought to be really proud of. There are a lot of places, a lot bigger and a lot wealthier than Highland County, who are not able to put together a program like this. It’s not just that they aren’t able to get donors – they aren’t able to bring together the parents and the kids and the school and the businesses and worksites and the people who teach educational sessions for the young people. They’re not able to get all of those folks on the same page like we are here in Highland County, and we’re able to do it and keep it going, and the community support and the donors are something that I think the community ought to be really proud of.

“I think the other piece of the program that really makes it work is the kids. The young people here – you know, I’ve heard since I started here as Youth Coordinator, people say to me “Well, that’s a tough job because, you know these kids these days, they don’t want to work.” And in my experience, that’s not true at all. Part of the reason the Youth Employment Program has grown so much this year is because I have so many of the young people here that come up to me and ask me for jobs. And they want to work – they want  to contribute to the community and contribute to these businesses and develop their skills so that they’ll be able to build a resume and gain some training that’s going to help them get jobs later. So really, a lot of credit goes to the young people to, and to my mind, as someone who’s still relatively new here, that’s another piece of the puzzle that the county should be really proud of – you’ve got some great kids.”

The WVLS studio is a worksite for one of this year’s participants.

“I’m Timothy Arbogast, and I work at the radio station with Scott Smith.”

He talked about the best part of the job – “Getting to go on the air.”

And the worst part-  “Cleaning. Because there’s so much to clean here – all the walls.”

And his thoughts on the value of the program.

“It is a very good thing – helping kids learn work skills – to go to work on time, not taking so many breaks, listening to the boss.”

He also showed an aptitude beyond his years for employer/employee relationships when asked what he’d change about the program.

“I wouldn’t change anything – it’s perfect.”

Story By

Scott Smith

Scott Smith is the General Manager for Allegheny Mountain Radio and Station Coordinator and News Reporter for WVLS. Scott’s family has deep roots in Highland County. While he did not grow up here, he spent as much time as possible on the family farm, and eventually moved to Highland to continue the tradition, which he still pursues with his cousin. Unfortunately, farming doesn’t pay all the bills, so he has previously taken other jobs to support his farming hobby, including pressman/writer for The Recorder, and Ag Projects Coordinator for The Highland Center. He lives in Hightown with wife Michelle and son Ethan. In his spare time, he wishes he had more spare time, especially to ride his prized Harley-Davidson motorcycle. scott@amrmail.org

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