By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
Dante, a young Milwaukee local, just started his first job. For just over a month now, Dante has been employed at St. Charles Furniture and Thrift Store located at 6731 W. Greenfield Ave. He, like many of the employees working at the store, is a part of Youth Employment Services (Y.E.S.), a program created through St. Charles Youth & Family Services.
Scott Carpenter, the Vice President of the St. Charles, explained that YES began eight years ago, when St. Charles Youth & Family Services partnered with WRAPAROUND Milwaukee. They wanted to create a program where youth who were struggling could be employed.
Some of the teenagers were having trouble at home or in school, others were dealing with mental health issues. WRAPAROUND wanted these kids, who were recommended by the county, to have a place where they could feel safe and learn basic job skills.
“Milwaukee county works with young people who may need help for a lot of different reasons,” Carpenter said. “But that’s not the most important definition of them.”
Through St. Charles, the teens gained skills in custodial care, food service and customer service and retail. The program lasts four months per person, with time dedicated to training resume writing and interview techniques. About 140 youth go through the program each year, Carpenter said.
“We tell our kids in the beginning that they’re starting a clean slate with an employment record,” he said. “You might have a reputation, this is a way to start a new reputation.”
During the program, the students are encouraged to take risks. Carpenter explained that they want the students to assert themselves, learn to communicate and ask questions to seek clarity. The students learn what it means to have a good work ethic, how to follow rules and keep up attendance.
“They blossom in different ways,” Carpenter said. “They really try to assert themselves in a way that’s helpful.”
Being employed helps them explore a different side of their identity, he said.
Dante said that working at the furniture and thrift store has taught him a lot. Through training he learned how to greet and treat customers when they’re looking for help. He’s also learned how to deal with a customer who is rude. Working has also taught him how to work well with others.
“I was really shy before this [job] and it has helped me,” Dante said.
Through the program, Dante has become happier and more spirited. Before this job, he would sit at home and now he’s found a way to be productive. He added that the program has helped him become a more responsible person.
“I’m getting better grades and my relationship with my parents is getting better,” he said.
The program has helped over 1,000 students such as Dante find a purpose in their life and gain valuable skills. This is the store’s third location and it plans to stay there for a while. West Allis is a great location for this, Carpenter said. Its centralized location makes it easier for St. Charles to service more children in Milwaukee.
The store’s grand opening is today, Saturday, March 9. To learn more about the St. Charles’s Y.E.S. program go to http://stcharlesinc.org/services/workforce-development/.