Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection has grown by leaps and bounds since Robert Wegman first envisioned a way to help improve the graduation rates in Rochester city schools, so much so the organization has employed a dedicated team of individuals to serve as liaisons between schools and employer partners.
“The Jobs Institute came into existence about five or six years ago as the regions grew. Each region was running its own operations, collaborating with its school district, collaborating with employers,” Jobs Institute director Meghan Wagner said. “It was a stretch for them to go out and engage in the employer partnership, particularly because we have to make sure we have enough jobs ready for students once they get to that readiness stage.”
HWSC serves some 4,400 students in Rochester; Syracuse; Rome, Oneida County; Buffalo; Salamanca, Cattaraugus County; Prince George’s County, Md.; and Washington, D.C. Its partnerships are between schools districts and partner employers. The goal is to embed youth advocates in schools who then serve dozens of students, ensuring that their academics, attendance and attitude meet a certain standard.
The Jobs Institute was created to be an essential force coming out of HWSC’s national office in Rochester, Wagner said. The individuals who run the institute focus on assisting each region in its outreach and employer partner engagement.
“We will help initial conversations. We will do research on a community tvo say: here are some major employers or small-business employers in your area that may have minor youth employment experience,” Wagner said.
The Jobs Institute looks for employers who are easily accessible via public transportation or who have voiced an interest in employing at-risk youth, in addition to employers that offer an interesting student work experience.
“We help the region move through relationship building, initial outreach, all of the formalities,” Wagner said. “And then the region kind of owns the relationship from there once we’ve really launched it.”
The Jobs Institute also is charged with observing the job readiness training that each of the students must participate in before joining an employer partner. The Youth Employment Training Academy is 25-hour live classroom training that focuses on employability skills such as customer service, managing oneself, problem solving and effective communication.
Although Wegmans Food Markets Inc. is HWSC’s premier employer partner, the Jobs Institute has helped to connect students to a number of other businesses such as University of Rochester, Rochester Institute of Technology, Tops Markets LLC and Rochester Regional Health, among others.
Kimberley Muratore is the manager of the HWSC program at Rochester Regional Health, and her passion for the program stems from being born and raised in the city of Rochester and her firsthand knowledge of the lack of resources in urban communities.
“It’s my mission to help students fill in those gaps, to equalize that equity of resources,” Muratore said. “I really thought Hillside and that opportunity to employ youths and give them a future career pathway was a really great way to do that.”
Rochester Regional Health has worked with HWSC and its Jobs Institute since December, but already has seen a tremendous increase in student interest in jobs with the organization.
“We went in our first session from having two students interested to interviewing 13 students (this month),” Muratore said.
Muratore has found that many students are interested in giving back to their communities, and part-time jobs in the health care sector enables them to do that. She also is keen to assure students that there are many other opportunities under the Rochester Regional Health umbrella, such as business, accounting and law.
“One of the things I focus on is workforce development in Rochester. Health care is recession-proof,” she said. “You can start at 17 and retire from Rochester Regional Health and have a really great career where you can provide a good means for yourself, for your family.”
It is a great way to escape the trap of poverty, she added.
Muratore said she sees from both Rochester Regional Health and HWSC an unwavering commitment to youths at risk of not graduating on time. The collaboration helps students gain confidence and study harder.
She noted that there are a number of academically aligned programs available for top students, as well as those that focus on career development and the trades, but HWSC does a nice job of blending both of those while offering opportunities to students who are at risk.
“I think Hillside and organizations like Rochester Regional Health do a great job of embracing those students who stay in our community,” Muratore said. “A lot of students that go on to big name colleges quite often leave. They go away to college and stay in big cities. The students we work with are the backbone of our community and they’re the future of the employment force here in Rochester.”
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