This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Richette Walton, 22, had just one task in mind when she walked into the CareerLink offices in University City a year ago – to print out copies of her resume. Her plan was to hit the street, pass out resumes, and find a job that had more of a future than waitressing.
But a bigger plan soon unfolded. The CareerLink staff sent Walton down the hall to the Hub, a federally funded pilot project that offers personalized support to young adults, ages 16-24, in West Philadelphia.
“We talked about what I wanted to do, the things I wanted to accomplish,” recalled Walton. “We set up a plan, and the rest is history.”
Now, she has two semesters at Community College of Philadelphia to her credit and has completed a paid internship at the Philadelphia Youth Network, where she is now working. Her dream is to become a lawyer; in the short term, she is training to become a paralegal.
At the Hub, she said, she got help with “small things like writing emails, being punctual, learning what you need to wear in an office setting.” In sum, she’s acquired what she calls “office savvy.”
Since late 2016, the Hub, with a staff of three advisers (called navigators) and a career-readiness coordinator, has arranged work experiences for more than 120 young people and helped 50 transition to employment, career training and college opportunities, according to Christin Bell, project manager. A staffer with the School District’s Reengagement Center also is on site to assist youth seeking to re-enroll or pursue a GED.
The Hub is attached to the CareerLinks office, a state Department of Labor and Industry initiative to assist adults with job searches and career counseling. There are more than 70 CareerLinks offices across the state. Also, in 2014, the federal government designated West
Philadelphia zip codes 19104, 19131, and 19139 as a Promise Zone, a 10-year project to address deep, intergenerational poverty and unemployment in those neighborhoods.
Youth are especially hard-hit: Data collected in support of the Promise Zone designation showed nearly 3,000 young people (ages 18-24) in the Mantua and Belmont sections neither working nor in school, with perhaps 1,000 more in the other neighborhoods also in dire straits. The Hub, at 40th and Walnut Streets, is situated for easy access.
The advisers work one-on-one with each client.
“Young people come in with different skills, different interests, different goals,” said Bell. “But a lot of our out-of-school youth are in need of those soft skills – learning how to present themselves professionally, resume-building, learning interview skills, things like that.”
One appeal of the Hub is that there are few barriers to services, according to Fatima McDonald, one of the youth navigators. “Adjudicated youth, youth struggling with getting their GED, youth who are not struggling with anything at all but are just looking for that help with those soft skills – we are open to those different populations and that makes our program unique,” she said.
On a recent day, McDonald was assisting Darien McCode, 23, who in recent weeks had updated his resume, taken a skills assessment test, and gotten advice on good work habits.
“I like the Hub because it shows a lot of support. It helps me getting everything done, and they helped me a couple of months back getting a job at the Fresh Grocer,” McCode said. His goal is to work in landscaping or construction, which will require more training, he said.
Omar Hendricks, 21, graduated from Science Leadership Academy, where teachers urged students to pursue post-secondary options. “At the time,” he said, “I didn’t really want to go to college.”
He joined the City Year program and worked as a tutor, then took a job ushering at the Freedom Theater.
“My mother told me about the Hub,” Hendricks said. “What I like about it is having black people supporting me, wanting me to succeed, to find a career, find a job.”
He’s still not sure what field he will land in, but with the Hub’s help, he has acquired a beefed-up resume and has learned tips on “how to work in a more professional environment.”
He’s now a paid intern in the CareerLinks office. What he’s learned in recent months has helped a lot.
“I wish I had heard about this in high school,” Hendricks said. “This would have been perfect – how to be more professional, what a professional work environment looks like. School pushed me toward college, but didn’t push me toward something like this.”
Bell agreed. “A lot of the skills young people are looking for – how to prepare for an interview, how to write a resume, how to complete a job search or complete an online application — that’s what we can help them with. We really just offer whatever a young person needs.”
The Hub is a two-year pilot project with $2 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Labor and multiple local partners, with the Philadelphia Youth Network (PYN) as the lead. That organization has five other pilots under way, all focusing on career-building and entrepreneurship for young people.
Whether the Hub survives beyond 2018 will depend on further funding, said Stephanie Gambone, PYN executive vice president. One lesson already learned: The use of navigators/advisers at the Hub is an approach worth emulating, according to Gambone. “That customized approach” is really valuable, she said.
What youth acquire at the Hub is “like a prep course for learning how to go to work,” she said. “They’re both learning and doing. It’s an opportunity to have a real job, and it also gets them to think about what life looks like after high school … and what it means to be in the workforce.”
Richette Walton said that what she’s learned from the coaching at the Hub and from staffers at PYN has been a real eye-opener. “Just being able to see your options—that’s the most important thing,” she said.
“I think a lot of kids don’t think they have a chance. They might not apply for a job or an experience or a school because they count their own selves out. But experiences like the Hub, they give you the confidence and the skills that you need. You can say, ‘hey, I can compete. I got this.’”
Walton said she shares what she has learned with her younger sister. “It’s important to really work hard and make sure that every year you learn something new, every year you gain a new skill to make yourself better, smarter, stronger,” the young woman said. “I want her to see the different things a kid from West Philly can do.”