Program pairs teens with summer jobs

PARKERSBURG – More than two-dozen teens have been paired with area employers as part of this summer’s Civic Leaders Program.

About 30 teens gathered Thursday at the Our Community’s Foundation – Parkersburg Area Community Foundation headquarters to meet and have lunch with their summer employers. The program employs students from June to August at meaningful paid work assignments at area businesses, nonprofits and local governments.

“I think the greatest benefit of this program is it gives college-age students an opportunity to work within a field and gives them a network of contacts to help them after graduation find employment within our community,” said Jim Strader, director of the Civic Leaders Program. “It’s important to note, it’s not just the Wood County area. We have a number of counties represented through this program. We’re trying to do this on a regional basis.”

Students are selected for the program through a highly competitive process. If chosen, students can participate in the summer program for up to three years, providing they receive positive evaluations. Each student tier of experience receives different training, and third-year students are paired with mentors from Leadership WV alumni.

Bobbi McEndree, a paralegal with Anita Harold Ashley law firm in Spencer, met with Marshall University student Taylor Norman.

Norman said she is in the pre-law program at Marshall and sees the Civic Leaders Program as an opportunity to gain valuable experience in her future career.

“I’m hoping to learn a lot about what will help me advance in my pre-law track, and learn the ins and outs of the office,” she said.

McEndree said for the firm it is an opportunity to bring more future attorneys to small towns.

“The small, rural communities have seen a lot of young people leave,” she said. “We want to encourage those going into law to come back, to serve those smaller counties.”

Christina Smith, executive director of The Arc of the Mid-Ohio Valley, met with returning leadership fellow Brittany Johnk, who just graduated from West Virginia Wesleyan College. Smith said The Arc had such a positive experience with Johnk last year, officials couldn’t wait for her to return.

“We were thrilled with the opportunity to have a Civic Leader come back to our program,” Smith said. “We want to be able to provide that real-world experience for her. Until you live and work in a nonprofit, you may not understand the expectations of that job, or the difference in working for a nonprofit versus a for-profit organization.”

Johnk said nonprofit work is her career goal, and the program has provided her with an opportunity to gain valuable skills and experience.

“I’m glad to be coming back knowing how things work there,” she said. “I will be able to jump right back into some projects and have a little more independence with those.”

The program began in 2011 following an extensive study of the region’s business needs. Judy Sjostedt, executive director of Our Community’s Foundation, said one of the major areas of need identified was ways to keep graduates in the area. Pairing college students with local businesses and organizations while giving them valuable work experience became the impetus behind the Civic Leaders Fellowship initiative.

“For us to help our region to thrive, it’s up to all of us to help those who follow us to find their place here,” Sjostedt said.

Major funding for the program is through PACF, and the Benedum and McDonough foundations, with contributions from numerous other foundations, businesses and private individuals. Anyone interested in helping fund the initiative should call 1-304-428-4438.