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Englewood Teens Get Down To Business At Summer Apprenticeship Program

Englewood Teens Get Down To Business At Summer Apprenticeship Program
August 19, 2019  Hillary Viders for Northern Valley Press

The Summer Business Apprenticeship Program class of 2019. | Photo by Hillary Viders

ENGLEWOOD, N.J.—Mentorship played a starring role for 40 Englewood teenagers as they learned invaluable business skills this summer in the city’s sixth annual Summer Business Apprenticeship Program.

During the six-week program that began on July 1, high school juniors and seniors who live in Englewood were placed in local retail stores, businesses and organizations, where they worked 23 hours a week and earned a $1,200 stipend.

The Summer Business Apprenticeship Program was hosted by the Bergen Family Center (BFC) in Englewood and funded by the Englewood City Council.  The Englewood Chamber of Commerce and the SID (Special Improvement District) recruited the businesses and placed students in them.

“This is one of the best programs in Englewood or anywhere in Bergen County,” ECC President Carol Rauscher said. “If you had to rank this program, I’d give it a 10!” 

The Summer Business Apprenticeship Program was created in 2013 by Liz Corsini, Vice President of the BFC in collaboration with the Englewood Chamber of Commerce. Mariam Gerges, LCSW, director of School Based Youth Services at BFC, leads the program, and Maria Mulry is the operations coordinator.

This year, there were 26 participating business venues, including the Englewood Public Library, Englewood Health, the Women’s Rights Information Center, Flat Rock Brook Nature Center, the Bergen Performing Arts Center, the Lillian Booth Actor’s Home, Englewood Municipal Court, and Englewood Parks and Recreation.

In addition to their 23 hours of work per week at their job, the apprentices met every Wednesday at the Englewood Public Library for weekly workshops. During these two-hour sessions, the students engaged in educational activities that taught them valuable real life work readiness skills and teamwork. This included putting together a resume, practicing time management, opening a bank account, negotiating finance skills, understanding the difference between nonprofit and corporate, honing communication skills, and much more.

“I love watching the students’ progress,” Mulry said. “They come in green, without work experience.  They really learn and grow throughout the six weeks.”

Gerges agreed.

“I appreciate the growth of the students, not just in terms of business acumen, but in developing their own self worth,” she said. “Many of the students come in not knowing that they can accomplish things. They do not have the skill sets to navigate systems, nor the confidence to put themselves out there.  We teach them not to be afraid to deal with rejection and to keep trying until they succeed.”

New this year was a group service project. After a visit by Age-Friendly Englewood Coordinator Janet Sharma and Englewood Rotary Club President JoEllen Knie, the apprentices discussed how to give back to their community, both as a team and individually. This discussion will be continuing in the fall because the students took such a great interest in learning how to identify need in the community and how to help the elderly.

During the Summer Business Apprenticeship program, the students also took a full tour of Englewood Health, led by Jennifer Yanowitz, a community health specialist. She explained the mission of Englewood Behavioral Health and showed the students all different career paths. As a result, one apprentice, Faith Anderson, now intends to pursue a career path as a nurse practitioner. 

Mayor Michael Wildes, Councilman Charles Cobb (back row, center) and Councilwoman Katharine Glynn (on right) with teens in the Summer Business Apprenticeship Program. | Photo by Hillary Viders

Teamwork is a top priority
A major component of the Summer Business Apprenticeship Program is teamwork. As such, the students were divided into eight teams of five students.  Throughout the program they undertook team competitions that emphasized productivity and time management with specific goals, such as perfect attendance, arriving on time, engaging in the workshop, asking questions, and good reviews by business owners on worksheets. 

At the conclusion of the program, each member of the winning team, Las Estrellas (“The Stars”), received a gift card from Chick-Fil-A restaurant along with a day planner and a pen.

How the apprentices were selected
Teens eligible for the Englewood Summer Business Apprenticeship Program must be Englewood residents in 11th or 12th grade, age 16 and over. They can come from different schools, including Dwight Morrow High School/Academies@Englewood, Bergen County Academies, Paramus Catholic and Bergen Tech.

Candidates are selected by a team comprised of BFC professionals and members of the Englewood Chamber of Commerce. Students go through an interview and selection process involving a rubric system to assure efficient and fair selection of students.

This year there were over 60 applicants from which a group of 40 students were selected.

Many of the apprentice graduates are offered the opportunity to continue working in their placements after the program is over.

“Every year, several of the programs’ apprentices are offered part time salaried jobs by their summer venues,” Gerges said. “Other students are able to attain employment elsewhere, whereas had they not had the apprenticeship opportunity they would not have been as successful. For many students this is their first taste of the professional world and a huge boost to their self-esteem.”

A great graduation day
As a fitting culmination to the Summer Business Apprenticeship Program, a festive graduation was held on Aug. 9 at the Chiang Auditorium at Englewood Health. It was attended by the graduates and their families, program staff members as well as mentors from the job sites. 

Joining them were Mayor Michael Wildes, Englewood Council President Katharine Glynn, Councilman Charles Cobb and the new Dwight Morrow High School Principal, Benjamin Suro.

After introductory remarks by Gerges, a video was shown of the apprentices in action followed by speeches by two of the students, Rauscher, Cobb and Wildes.  All of the speeches expressed how proud they were of the students and urged them to keep seeking mentorship and to pay it forward.

“You never know where life is going to take you, and someday, you may be standing here and making a difference,” Cobb said. “You have had experiences and you have made important relationships this summer that will be with you the rest of your life!”

Building on that, Wildes also told the students that it is important for them to keep up with modern technology and use these innovations to help themselves and help others. He advised them to continue seeking more apprenticeships as well as mentoring others as he does in his law practice, and to make the most of “the privilege of having a snapshot in time.”

Mulry then announced the winners of the team competition and then called each apprentice to the stage to receive their certificate and congratulations from the elected officials.

The graduation ended with a luncheon reception that was enjoyed by all.

At the conclusion of the graduation, all the students gave the apprenticeship program high marks. 

Shania Morales, who was placed at Englewood Health, said, “I worked at the hospital’s pre-admissions where I learned how to be helpful and compassionate to patients.”  

Kenia Akridge loved doing recreation activities at the Lillian Booth Actors Home

“It was a thrill meeting famous people, like Billy Porter’s mom, and I became so social,” she said.

Andrea Torres, whose daughter, Daniella Zafra, worked in the Alwards II Health Store, said, “Danielle became very responsible. She got up on time every morning and came home excited about how she loved working with customers.”

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