Teens work through YMCA

HOLLIDAYSBURG – Many people have a hard time finding work, but the job market can be especially difficult to break into for teenagers with no prior experience.

The Hollidaysburg Area YMCA might have a way to help. Its Youth Job Service program, started 14 years ago, has been placing applicants age 13 to 16 in local jobs.

YMCA Executive Director Tom Kopriva said the program has placed more than 4,000 teenagers, who have earned more than $100,000 combined, in local jobs through the years.

The teens work for area residents who need help with tasks like yard and house work, typing and minor painting jobs, he said.

“It’s a reliable, dependable service,” he said, and the YMCA supplies the labor force.

The jobs are age-appropriate, he said, and all applicants are screened and interviewed. Those who are selected also attend job training and are paid every two weeks.

In the past few years, interest on both sides of the program has waned. There were a few years when so many teens signed up that there weren’t enough jobs to go around, Kopriva said, so people stopped applying.

But with summer around the corner, Kopriva said he hopes to bring in a lot of new teenagers and customers to grow the program again across the greater Altoona area.

On the job

Similar to a temporary employment agency, Kopriva said customers pay the job service $6.50 an hour for the teen’s work, with 50 cents of that being a service fee the YMCA uses to cover costs, and the rest going to the teenager.

Residents pay the Y, and the Y in turns pays the workers.

Customers sign work orders and provide the equipment and tools needed, and the YMCA guarantees customer satisfaction, he said.

Hollidaysburg resident William Olson, who said he has been with the program for 15 years, has had more than a half-dozen teenage employees working at his home over the years.

“They’ll come into a house and scrub and clean windows and clean walls,” Olson said. “They do a wonderful job.”

William Collins of Hollidaysburg said he’s also had positive experiences with the program and sees it as a way to help the teens develop into responsible adults.

Collins said customers quickly learn patience with the kids. They might need to be shown how to do something the first time or two, he said, but all pick it up quickly and become good workers.

“I try to find out what their interests are,” he said, and if the workers achieve what they’re supposed to, they will be rewarded.

Collins said he’s taken teens to baseball games, to restaurants or even just out for a ride in his convertible.

“The last boy I had, I taught him to drive,” Collins said.

Olson agreed that there’s more to the program than having a helper. Years after the young men have moved on, he said many send Christmas cards and they still keep in touch.

“They’re almost like sons,” Olson said.

Kopriva said those types of stories are not uncommon, and in many cases there is a friendship and mentoring component to the job service.

Having a positive older role model is a good way to develop the teenagers’ character, Kopriva said, and in a way the service is as much a leadership-development program as it is a day job.

Growing up

Luke White, a 17-year-old line cook at The Dream, said when he entered the program as a sixth-grader, he didn’t understand the value of earning his own money.

“I was younger,” he said. “I really didn’t have a lot of a work ethic. Now, I’m working all the time.”

He might never have known how much he liked the fast-paced kitchen work environment if he hadn’t landed a job with the now-closed U.S. Hotel, thanks to an impressive resume and references list from the Youth Job Service program.

Kopriva’s son, Frank, 26, who is now the YMCA’s program director, also got his start working for the Youth Job Service at age 13.

Looking back on it, Frank Kopriva said he understands kids trying to find work are dealing with a double-edged sword.

You need to have had a job before you can get a job, he said, but “no one gives you the chance to get that experience.”

During his time with the program, Frank Kopriva said he did mostly yard work in the summer and raked leaves in the fall. But the work he did was about more than manual labor, he said.

“I’m not even sure I realized all the benefits” at the time, he said, which included not having to ask his parents for spending money, building on his job experience for a resume and developing a reference list.

Tom Kopriva said with a new program director, Polly McCabe, the Youth Job Service is relaunching and he hopes to draw in customers and workers.

Anyone interested in the Youth Job Service should call the YMCA at 695-4467.