How a United Way Grant is Preparing Youth for the Workforce

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Take on a new challenge, earn some extra spending money, experience the “working world” and make new friends.

These were a local mother’s summer goals for her teenage son Aaron. When he was one of the 40 teenagers selected for the ServiceCorps organized by the Coatesville Youth Initiative, the 8-week program exceeded her expectations. “My son is a laid back guy, but during the program, I watched him delegate and strive to implement the ideas about teamwork that were heavily emphasized throughout the program,” she says.

As part of the ServiceCorps, local youth helped to deliver programming at various host sites four days a week. For example, youth participants harvested more than 500 pounds of produce for the Chester County Food Bank and provided companionship to patients at the Coatesville VA Medical Hospital. As a result, the host sites were able to provide programming they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford.

One day a week, the youth also receive training on soft skills such as listening and customer service, as well as insights on leadership, teamwork, and common workplace practices. “Aaron has developed some of the characteristics needed in today’s workforce,” says Aaron’s older brother. “He is growing to be the strong, capable young man that I always knew he could be.”

A grant from United Way of Chester County helped cover the stipends for the youth participants and the personnel costs for the program’s two coordinators, resulting in youth gaining invaluable work experience, opportunities to serve and connect with their community, development of life and leadership skills, and a summer income. As a result of the program, teenagers like Aaron provided more than 9,900 hours of community service last year.

Workforce youth development programs are especially important as youth often struggle to find employment. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in Pennsylvania last year, about 16 percent of 16 to 19 year olds were unemployed. Those in their early 20s are more likely to be working, but their status often depends on whether they remain in school.

“These summer jobs at community agencies provide not only supplemental income for teens and their families but also help to build leadership and career skills that offer lasting benefits,” says Claudia Hellebush, United Way of Chester County’s CEO and president.

The Coatesville Youth Initiative was one of 58 agencies to receive funding through United Way of Chester County’s program grants for the 2017-2018 fiscal year. More than 50 volunteers evaluated funding requests from local social service programs to determine which services would have the greatest impact on the health, education and financial stability of Chester County families and senior citizens. Altogether, more than $1.3 million was distributed to local agencies to help make the community a place where everyone can thrive and prosper.

“Many youth have limited or no options for a safe, positive and fun experience during the summer,” says Chaya Scott, Executive Director for the Coatesville Youth Initiative. “But thanks to supporters like the United Way, Chester County youth can grow, learn and develop skills that equip them to become successful, contributing adults.”


Pictured is a Chester County teenager participating in a ServiceCorps community service activity.