Harrisburg, PA — About 100 Pennsylvania youth who have disabilities, have been justice-involved, live in rural communities, or face other employment barriers have dream jobs this summer.
In Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, youth are working in the marketing department for the Minor League Baseball RailRiders. In Philadelphia, participants are at Philly Pumptrack, a free, public, volunteer-led bike park for youth and families from the region, while others are moving and shaking with Councilmember Kendra Brooks.
Some participants with disabilities are on the counseling staff at the York YMCA’s Camp Spirit and working with the City of York Parks and Recreation Bureau giving neighborhood parks a makeover. Meantime, a few young foodies are getting on-the-job training at the Gettysburg College dining hall.
The young summer employees are participants in Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc., through a partnership with the Pennsylvania Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR)’s “My Work Initiative” and “Community Work Instruction” programs. The MY Work Initiative and Community Work Instruction programs are OVR funded summer jobs programs to connect students with disabilities en masse to jobs in their local communities.
Ryan Hyde, Acting Executive Director of OVR, stated that “The OVR My Work Initiative is a fantastic program that creates collaboration between OVR, a local municipality, and a local vendor to offer paid work-based learning experiences for students with disabilities.” He continued, “The partnership with YAP has been an exceptional example of collaboration that will impact the student participants for years to come by creating opportunities for them to gain real world work experience in a variety of professions.”
A 47-year-old Harrisburg-based national nonprofit, YAP partners with youth justice, child welfare, behavioral health, developmental disabilities, public safety, and other systems in 33 states and the District of Columbia to provide community-based services as an alternative to youth incarceration, congregate residential care, and neighborhood violence.
YAP hires and trains community-based Advocates to help program participants see their strengths while connecting them with economic, educational, and emotional tools to nurture them.
“We’ve modeled both OVR summer jobs initiatives after our YAP Supported Work program component, where we identify and recruit employers willing to provide on-the-job training for kids who might not otherwise have the opportunity to get paid for something they’re enthusiastic about,” said YAP National Coordinator of Developmental Disabilities Programs Lori Burrus. “Eleven YAP offices across the state are participating in these summer jobs programs, and like YAP Supported Work, wages are paid to participants through funding from our systems partner, which in this case, is OVR.”
The summer jobs program participants are young people with disabilities, have been in the youth justice system, live in rural communities, and/or are members of minority groups. OVR refers the participants to YAP, which recruits the employers and makes the matches according to the young people’s interests and abilities. YAP’s community-based staff members also work with the youth to secure work permits, Social Security Administration and other paperwork, and transportation. OVR personnel follow up with each participant biweekly and visit with them on-the-job to track their progress.
“This is a true Commonwealth- and community-wide team effort. The kids are the troopers, and the heroes are the employers who serve as worksite trainers, patiently and caringly teaching the program participants general job tasks, reinforcing skills development, and providing day-to-day supervision,” Burrus said.
Participants receive stipends equivalent to a wage of $10.35 per hour.