A group of teenagers dressed in blue T-shirts were gathered around workbenches in front of the University’s Physical Plant on a recent warm summer’s day, learning the finer points of wood-cutting with power tools.
But these aren’t your average teens working a summer job. Hailing from high schools throughout the Indianapolis metro area, the students are participating in TeenWorks, a summer employment and college readiness program that provides opportunities for hundreds of teenagers. Indiana philanthropist Gene B. Glick started the initiative in 1981 with the goal of providing teens with a summer job to teach them the principles of self-discipline, a hard day’s work and giving back to the community.
The University of Indianapolis has partnered with TeenWorks for the past several years to provide those opportunities on campus and to expose students to university life. Hosting the program is part of the University’s commitment to promoting service learning through student education and community development. Participants often receive their first service-learning experience through TeenWorks – which program organizers hope will encourage a lifetime of giving back.
RELATED: WRTV’s report on TeenWorks at UIndy
Students participating in TeenWorks earn minimum wage or higher, depending on their experience with the program. They also learn leadership and interview skills, build professional resumes and practice career readiness skills in technology and finances. TeenWorks provides transportation, daily meals and direct support.
This year’s projects included the construction of picnic tables, which will be installed outside the Schwitzer Center, along with painting and beautification projects around campus. Mike England, University of Indianapolis grounds crew leader, said the hands-on experience is designed to give students a taste of skilled trades as they consider different career options.
“That way they respect those skills, and they can carry these trades back home with them,” England said.
Another goal of TeenWorks is to create academic objectives that include postsecondary education. The TeenWorks group took tours of University departments like IT, and attended a career fair on campus as part of the curriculum.
Rick Cassidy works as an adult mentor and supervisor for the TeenWorks crew assigned to UIndy. He said the program is focused on preparing students for the next steps in their career, including soft skills like team-building, business etiquette and leadership.
“Being able to give them that step ahead is really important,” Cassidy said.
Aniah Miles, a Warren Central High School student, is considering a career in the medical field with the goal of becoming a neurosurgeon. In the meantime, she appreciates the chance to learn lessons that aren’t always included in a typical high school curriculum.
“I have a lot more skills that I know I will be able to use in my future, like conducting myself in a manner that’s appropriate. I can use this later on in life,” Miles said.
England said the students’ various aptitudes stand out no matter what the project is, with students often stepping up to help their peers. “You can see their confidence grow as they build their skills,” he said.
All of the students in UIndy’s TeenWorks crew said they’d recommend the program to their peers.
“Going into it can be a little intimidating because you probably won’t know anyone, but if you go in with an open mind, it’s a great experience,” Miles said.
Learn more about TeenWorks here.