Youth Employment Program a Success

The Youth Employment Program in Highland County has been working for many years to bring young people seeking jobs together with employers needing labor. The program is operated by The Highland Center in Monterey, and Josh Umar, Youth and Community Outreach Coordinator for the Center, explained more about it.

“The Youth Employment Program has a long history in Highland – several decades. The Highland Center took it over in 2002, I believe, when the school felt that they could no longer do it. People in the county seem to be well aware of the program and well aware of what it does for the kids and the businesses in the area.

“We’ve had a really successful year. We had 14 different kids come through the the program this summer. About 10 of them from beginning to end, and others started and exited the programs at various times, when their jobs were over. They put in 1,526 hours at seven different worksites, so they were at the school, the library, several local farms, Chamber of Commerce, and even the radio station.

“We are funded by donors. The Youth Employment Program wages and materials, we get those through donations, so we’ve had a lot of great supporters for many years – the Ruritan clubs, the Lions club, even the school itself, though they don’t run the program, they are big donors, and have really supported us, and so we want to thank them, and finally also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the worksites themselves. The people who are willing to supervise these kids while we pay them to work, and who are willing to help the kids develop the skills, the soft skills especially, as they’re often called, that employers say that they need. Just the basics of work ethic, showing up on time, how to build a resume.

“That’s the other thing that the donors’ money funds, is career development, in addition to providing the kids with work opportunities, we do educational sessions, that help them build their skills. This year, we talked with them about opening a bank account, and the importance of establishing credit. We did a career planning course with them, we had people in to talk about the effect of having criminal records, on your job and education, and then the one that I’m most proud of, is that we had a series of practice job interviews set up for them. The gentleman that do the business counseling here from SCORE came in over the mountain for an extra appointment, to sit with the kids all day, and do practice interviews based on a mock job description, then spent 10 minutes after with each individual kid coaching them, letting them know what they can do better and what they did well.

“The Youth Employment ages right now are between 14 – 20. We’re looking to expand the educational sessions ages to down around 13, so that those kids can start early getting the skills.

“I would love to hear from potential worksites and businesses. If you would love to talk about, or learn more about the Youth Employment Program, I am happy to talk with you.”

For more information about the program, contact Mr. Umar at 540-468-1922, or email

“One of the things that I hope to do with the program is shift the focus of the program to being a bit more entrepreneurial. One example – we had a participant place at a local farm this year, and she was doing farm work, harvesting and washing vegetables, and things like that. We worked with the supervisor there to get her her own dedicated bed. So when she grew vegetables out of that bed, she was able to take them to the Market, and sell those, and keep a portion of the money in addition to her wages. So we’re trying to get opportunities like that lined up – apprenticeships, mentorships – that can lead to the sort of mindset where these kids will eventually go out and make their own opportunities, and contribute to the county.”

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.

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