SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


VISTA Volunteer Prepares to Leave; Recalls Year of Service


August 11, 2007

Ketchikan, Alaska - Combine the commitment and talents of an enthusiastic AmeriCorps*VISTA volunteer with the passions of a young teenager and what do you get? A valuable contribution to our community's work force. This is a story of just that scenario, and a young man, Jesse Harrington, who is now preparing to leave Ketchikan after his year's commitment as a VISTA worker under the sponsorship of Ketchikan Youth Initiatives.

jpg Jesse Harrington

Jesse Harrington,
AmeriCorps*VISTA volunteer

Looking back over his year of service, Harrington recalls that the most memorable youth to arrive at the Youth to Work program's doorstep was also one of the first to enroll in the program. "This young person came to one of our recruitment events and we could tell right away that he was going to do wonders; he immediately started showing up early to get the room set up before class. He was a very quiet, well-mannered young man." He said, "Upon speaking with him further we discovered funny things happened every time he started speaking about building or repairing computers, his face would get all red with excitement and you could see a fire burning in his eyes." Harrington said he knew his task to find a computer repair shop that would hire a 15 year old wouldn't be easy.It wasn't said Harrington, but after a short stretch of waiting he was ready to start his first day at very great computer repair store. He said he thought for sure, "This is not going to fly for very long," but every time Harrington called that place prepared for bad news all they could tell him was how great youth worker was and how quickly he had picked up the material.

Harrington said the Youth to Work project was all a dream, a dream of Bobbie McCreary and Ketchikan Youth Initiatives, his sponsora dream that made so much sense that it just had to become a reality for our local youth. On January 5, 2007 there was a meeting hosted by Ketchikan Youth Initiatives, the Job Center and the University of Alaska Southeast-Ketchikan at the Creekside Meeting Center to discuss how the group could more effectively get Ketchikan's youth ready to be part of the local workforce. "We had 27 different members of the community in attendance, mostly employers or people that currently work with youth, the cream of the crop so to speak." said Harrington. During that meeting many collaborations were made and much attention was returned to the issue at hand. How do we as a community make our youth more employable? said Harrington.

In February Ketchikan Youth Initiatives and the Ketchikan Job Center began working together in order to get our local youth "job ready." After speaking with numerous employers in the Ketchikan area, Harrington said he had determined that the number one ability employers wanted to see in their young employees was simply to show up. Secondly, to be on time and ready to work. This would mean these young workers would have to know how to communicate, be motivated to multitask, and find the work that needed to be done at their workplace he said.

Harrington said, "Certainly these were lessons I had learned through my own experience, but what do you do when you have no idea how to teach such skills to youth? You go to the experts-in this case our expert was Melissa Cruise from the Job Center. Melissa used her experience and wisdom to devise a curriculum that would both accomplish our goals and meet the expectations of the employers that would be eventually working with our youth."

Harrington said, "We learned after months of research on other successful programs of this nature across the country that we wanted to have four main elements to the program; assessment, training, mentoring, and on-the job experience." He said, "The assessment program that we decided to use is based upon the idea of an interest inventory that shows in what areas your interests lie." He explained that using this approach helps young people find out what their passion is, what they will be most likely to be successful doing. The training aspect was put together by looking at a multitude of curriculum from other programs and then consolidating it, making use of some Job Center and Boys and Girls Club Job Ready materials, to take aim on the specific issues that we have in Ketchikan said Harrington. "When it came to the mentoring aspect of the program." said Harrington, "we thought the best way to make sure that the youth finished their on-the job experience was to have someone there for them to talk to, almost to coach them and make sure as problems came up they were dealt with in a positive fashion."

Harrington said his favorite part of this program and what he felt would help the most is the on-job training aspect. He said, "In this section our plan was to take the information from the aforementioned interest inventory and try to match the trainees up with an employer that fits with what interested them." Harrington said, "This is a key factor to help some of the harder-to-reach youth become excited about working. So with the experienced trainer from the Job Center and the room that they designated their new Youth Room on board we were ready to roll. "

"And roll we did," said Harrington. The initial interest meeting at the job center had 56 kids between the ages of 14-24. He said, "It was overwhelming, so overwhelming that we were forced to change rooms at the Job Center to accommodate all the participants." Harrington said, "I guess when you put 'free pizza' on a flyer you should be prepared for such things." However the really overwhelming feeling came when almost all of the participants filled out all of the paperwork and had a real interest in the program said Harrington. Coming from that initial meeting 24 students came in to take the training. Out of those 24, 19 finished the course as of mid-May and out of those 19, 12 completed their work experience. Out of those 12, 10 have been hired on to continue at their position and the other two were unable to continue because of their specific job location shutting down at the end of the school year. "Pretty darn good numbers for the first time running a program," said Harrington.

And where are these youth working? Harrington said, "We try as hard as we can to place our clients in area that match their interest because in my experience people that want to be carpenters make lousy office assistants." He added, "This is not because they are not capable of the doing the job but because their true interest lies somewhere else, simply put, their heart is not in it." Harrington said some of the matches so far for are: Alltec as a computer tech, Cape Fox as a dishwasher/prep cook, The Day Spa as an intern, Tongass Conservation Society as the assistant to the director and community outreach associate, Holy Name Catholic Schools as after school care (two interns), Ketchikan Youth Initiatives as a graphic designer and last but not least an associate at Alaskan and Proud market.

Harrington said, "We also have a large handful of students that have been lucky enough to just be hired directly by businesses such as Channel Electric and Refiner's Road without going through the work experience internship." He said, "The reviews of our students have been great; it's a growing experience on both sides. The businesses get an employee that really wants to work and they know beforehand that this particular employee will need some time spent with coaching. The nice thing about it is that our trainees are motivated to show up everyday on time." He clarified that on time is 5 minutes before the start time.

One of the collaborations born from that January kick-off meeting included Ketchikan Youth Initiatives, the University of Alaska, the Job Center and contractor Charles Edwardson of Edwardson Enterprises. Harrington said, "Chas told us how now in his mid-40's he was probably the youngest contractor in town and the construction trades desperately need to attract new blood." He found a receptive audience said Harrington and Ketchikan Youth Initiatives took the lead to follow up on this need. "It wasn't an easy job and after several months of effort we were able to build the necessary partnerships and locate funding support for the first Youth to Work hands-on job training project," said Harrington.

In July, eight trainees ages 14 to 17, supported by two labor supervisors in their early 20s, a journeyman carpenter and Chas Edwardson as job superintendent/instructor completed a project to rehab an office trailer donated to the Ketchikan Hot Shots Paintball League by C&E Bradley. Harrington said this project generated wide support, including the Rasmuson Foundation for materials, Cellular One and Wal-Mart, Ketchikan Youth Initiatives, the Job Center, Ketchikan Indian Community and the Sons of Transition from Metlakatla Indian Community for trainee salaries, Southeast Alaska Independent Living, Inc for worker transportation to the job site at the paintball park on Revilla Road, the State of Alaska High Growth Industries grant for instruction and local contractors and organizations for supplies and rental equipment. "It was a great success story, five youth from Metlakatla and three from Ketchikan arrived at work on time every day at 7am and worked an eight hour day for two weeks, sometimes in the pouring rain, plagued by bugs, without running water, but without registering a complaint," said Harrington.

Harrington said he truly believes, "Every single youth that has gone through this program has been a success. Every single one is now a better worker and more confident person because of it."

KYI and the Job Center take this program very seriously said Harrington and look forward to serving the Ketchikan community for many years to come.

To find out how to have a youth work for you or if you are a youth 14-24 and need a kick start on your career path contact Youth to Work at or call 228-3236.

In mid-August an AmeriCorps*VISTA volunteer, Samantha Ewendt, arrives to take Harrington's place and carry the program forward.

Regarding Jesse Harrington's volunteer service, Bobbie McCreary, Director of KYI said, "Thank you, Jesse and we'll miss you!"



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Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska