When Grays Harbor Youth Works set out to find ways of improving opportunities on the Harbor for teens and young adults, it started out with two public forums for adults to contribute ideas.
“Then we realized, ‘Hey, we need to be hearing from the kids,’ ” said Doreen Cato, founder of the fledgling non-profit, currently operating under the umbrella of Catholic Community Services.
They interviewed 253 students from Aberdeen, Hoquiam and North Beach high schools. “With that they were able to find out these students really wanted an opportunity to participate in an internship program,” said Cato, who is also executive director of the United Way of Grays Harbor and Pacific counties.
Opportunities like that for young people are more than a little scarce here, but the non-profit Youth Works group is focused on changing that. Now it’s seeking input from people in the business and education communities on how they can create 15 for-credit internships for students starting in the 2013-14 school year.
It’s hosting a public forum Tuesday at the Port of Grays Harbor Commission Chambers, 4 to 6 p.m., 111 S. Wooding St., Aberdeen.
“We’re definitely open for any sort of feedback. We’re really gauging how responsive the business community is going to be, if this is a program they’re excited about and a program they’ll find meaningful and helpful,” said Catholic Community Services volunteer Casey Jergenson.
So far, the Taholah School District has agreed to recommend three students for internships next year, and the Aberdeen, Hoquiam and North Beach school districts will likely be included as well.
Beyond that, not much of the process is settled yet. As a rough outline, Cato said, student selection will likely start with recommendations from their schools, followed by a winnowing process through some combination of Youth Works and business feedback, hopefully similar to job interviews.
“My expectation is they should go through the process just like they were competing with the rest of the community for the job,” Cato said. “They would leave with whatever skill it was they were looking for. It’s not us picking it for them, they’re picking it for themselves.”
Feedback from students revealed they were interested in more than making copies or shadowing doctors or lawyers: Many asked to intern with corrections officers, police and fire departments.
“That makes sense, because they’re looking around them,” Cato said.
“The feedback that we’ve gotten from youth in the community is that the most important thing is that they’re doing really meaningful work that’s going to give them good experience that’s going to apply to seeking a career later on in life,” Jergenson said.
Catholic Community Services may also play a role in selection, Jergenson noted. Most students the organization works with are struggling with poverty but may be a good fit for internships.
“Those students may not be A-students that businesses may target for opportunities,” he said.
Cato started Grays Harbor Youth Works when she was living in Ocean Shores only part time two years ago. She has since moved completely to Grays Harbor. Over the past few years, numerous agencies have contributed, from Kiwanis to chambers of commerce, providing invaluable support in getting the effort moving, Cato said.
A core group of nonprofits have contributed to the effort, she noted, including Grays Harbor College, the state Department of Social and Human Services and Friends of the Ocean Shores Library.
For more information on Youth Works or Tuesday’s meeting, call Catholic Community Services at 360-637-8563.