MANSFIELD — After D’Arco Davis wrapped up his eighth grade year, his mother told him it was time to get a summer job.

Davis is 14, too young to be considered by most employers. Fortunately, he was able to find a summer job through the Youth Works program run by the Richland County Youth and Family Council. The program provides youngsters age 14 through 18 with jobs in the community, as well as transportation to their worksites.

Youth Works aims to provide positive experiences that engage youth and make them more interested in entering the workforce after high school, executive director Teresa Alt said.

“We really believe that those first work experiences for young kids make a huge difference,” she said. “They have a huge impact on them being lifelong participants in the workforce.”

Workforce participation in Richland County is lower than both the regional and state averages at 69.9 percent.

The program received more than 100 applications this year, Alt said, although some later found employment elsewhere. There are currently about 55 students employed through the program. Most work as summer camp counselors or doing office or custodial work.

Davis does a bit of both. The rising freshman is working at the Mary McLeod-Bethune Intervention & Enrichment Center (MBIE) in Mansfield.

Some days he works outdoors, washing and detailing vehicles used to transport area residents to and from medical appointments. Other days, he’s inside helping run the free children’s art program.

“This is not that easy,” he said. “(Working) is not as easy as people think it is. But it’s fun and it gives us something to do.”

Brooklyn and Bre’Aira Williams, 15, also work at MBIE. Their duties consist of cleaning and helping with the children’s art program.

“It teaches you real life skills and helps you learn what to do on the job, what not to do on the job,” Brooklyn said.

Rick Upchurch, an administrator at MBIE, said he’s seen the kids become more confident and develop a sense of purpose since beginning the work program.

“(They’re) getting up in the morning, taking on the day versus sleeping til noon, playing video games in the afternoon, not really making no progress with their life,” Upchurch said.

If the kids have worked hard throughout the week, he sometimes takes them to the park or the Dairy Queen on Friday afternoons. 

Davis and other Youth Works participants spend between 20 and 35 hours at their job site each week and earn $10 an hour. Most are paid with federal TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) dollars, although the Youth and Family Council also contributed funding to the program this year.

“I’m saving (my earnings) so my mom doesn’t have to spend it on stuff for school,” Davis said.

Brooklyn is also saving. Her twin sister Bre’Aira has a balanced financial approach.

“I save, but I spend some on me,” she said.

Catalyst Life Services also operates a component of youth workforce programming. Unlike Youth Works, the program operates year-round.

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) youth program provides comprehensive youth services to individuals ages 14 to 24 who face barriers to employment.

These barriers may include homelessness, pregnancy, parenthood, disability or aging out of the foster care system, among others. The program has no income eligibility requirements for youth over the age of 18.

“It’s a great program for the 14- and 15-year-olds because a lot of jobs in the community start out at 16 or above,” said Stephanie Jakubick, assistant director of vocational services at Catalyst. “This gives our participants a head start into their work experience opportunities and adds a competitive advantage over their same-age peers.”

In addition to job opportunities, youth receive support services tailored to their needs. Many older youth attend a college or trade school while enrolled.

There are currently 40 youth employed at a paid worksite through the Catalyst program. Catalyst’s full-time employment specialists offer coaching and supervise job sites to make sure the youth are learning proper skills.

“We see a lot of growth from the participants,” said Mitch Jacobsen, director of vocational services. “We’ve seen some of these individuals really grow throughout their work experience. They acquire new, skills transferable skills like communication, basic problem solving, attention to detail, following instructions, people skills – – those things that may not have ‘clicked’ in a traditional school setting.”

Other supports may include, but are not limited to, independent living skills training and financial literacy instruction, transportation and clothing assistance.

Catalyst is currently accepting referrals for individuals ages 18 to 24 who have graduated or dropped out of high school. Interested parties can contact Jakubick at or call 419-774-2250.

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