A first chance: the youth program at NCWorks

Published 10:21 am Monday, April 11, 2016

BCCC WAITING: Jasmine Spencer, 17, works as an assistant at the Continuing Education Department at BCCC. She is waiting to hear back from ECU.

WAITING: Jasmine Spencer, 17, works as an assistant at the Continuing Education Department at BCCC. She is waiting to hear back from ECU.

From Beaufort County Community College

Some people have an easier path in life than others. Hakim Chavis was not one of those people. By the time he turned 18, he had a felony on his record and a son to take care of — not the carefree youth that some of his peers experience. His felony charge stemmed from a simple fight, not an uncommon experience for a male teenager, but it led to an overblown “inciting a riot” charge. Some people are in need of a second chance, but it’s unclear whether Chavis even had a first chance. At 21, many of his options were already limited.

Chavis knew he needed to take action. He approached Mario Satterthwaite with the Youth Program at the NCWorks Center in Beaufort County. The program helps young people overcome barriers that hinder them from earning a living. They work with youth who dropped out of high school, have been incarcerated, live below the poverty line, lack work experience and/or are deficient in basic skills. They start as young as 16 and work with youth up to 24 years old. Those who are still in high school are usually at risk of not graduating due to their grades.

The program helps them with gaining short-term work experience, immediate employment, getting their literacy and numeracy levels up and getting a certificate that will help them find future employment in a technical field. Beaufort County Community College partners with the program to help the participants get their high school equivalencies or a certificate. Satterthwaite will go and seek out potential participants.

Sometimes it’s a nagging parent that pushes his or her child into the program, but the youth often recruit each other, excited by the results they are seeing.

Not all participants have the same issues that bring them to the program. Nyshoda Foreman lacked work experience and was extremely shy. A successful graduate of the program, Foreman now has a pharmacy technician certificate and is waiting to take her state board exams. In the meantime, she is working at Hardee’s. Satterthwaite said she is now “an outgoing young lady.”

Though the program helps these youth overcome immense barriers, getting through it is not always simple for participants. They still have to contend with all the issues that brought them to the program. Jaleel Satterthwaite came to the program as a high school graduate, but along the way he became ill. His illness discouraged him enough that Satterthwaite left the program and moved from Beaufort County. Mario tracked down Jaleel and convinced him to stick with it. Jaleel got work training and is now employed by McDonald’s. Through the program he earned a certificate as a registered nurse. He’s one of 89 people who have successfully completed the program.

Mario often takes time to counsel the youth when they are struggling to get through. A graduate of the program himself, Satterthwaite can relate to their experiences. He talks to them in way that resonates with their experiences growing up. These bonds mean that even after the youth finish the program, they will keep showing up at Satterthwaite’s office. He doesn’t mind. Even though the purpose of the program is to find temporary employment and get a certification, he wants to help them find a job in a more permanent career path.

The participants choose their own training. They don’t come in with a clear path of what they want to do, but they can pick through the certifications and decide what seems best for them. They are enrolled at the community college and the program pays for their courses. The work experience trainings are also financed by the program. Places like the City of Washington, Boys and Girls Club and Beaufort County Community College help provide work experience. One of the program participants, Jasmine Spencer, is currently an assistant in the Continuing Education department at BCCC. She is taking classes while she is completing her work experience and still manages to keep up a 3.2 GPA. Spencer, only 17, is getting her Associate’s degree and a certification as a pharmacy technician. She graduated high school one year early and is now waiting to hear from ECU. Her supervisors are so excited about her that they have asked to have her contract extended.

For those with more complicated backgrounds, Satterthwaite will try persuade employers to look at what his participants are doing now and not the mistakes they made in the past. The Youth Program can back the employer by covering 75 percent of training cost in order to make hiring these youth less risky. Even with this incentive, employers’ rigid stance on hiring people with backgrounds of incarceration make it hard for the youth to turn their new certifications into a rewarding job.

Hakim Chavis is now working at Hardee’s and has a certificate in industrial maintenance. The program helped him build his interview skills. While he knows that his record is going to stay with him, he hopes that his new skills will help people see beyond his past. As Chavis leaves the program, Satterthwaite will take another group of youth with who need a little training and watch them leave with their heads held high about their futures.