Being a teenager is rarely easy, but for those who end up in the juvenile justice system the challenges can be especially daunting. That’s where the Youth Impact Project comes in. Facilitated by Big Brothers Big Sisters and administered by Pacific Mountain Workforce Development Council, the project provides skills and training to youth in detention and further guidance once they are released. “Even though they’ve made mistakes, they have the potential to be successful,” says BBBS Program Manager Susan Kirn. “This program gives them the first step of hope.”

The first project component is a program called Uplift! This initial ten hour class held in Lewis, Mason, and Thurston counties, prepares youth to enter the workforce and covers topics like managing your mindset in the workplace and having realistic expectations. “We talk about things from the employers’ perspective,” says Kirn, who teaches the in-house portion of the course.

As they prepare to be released, Kirn advises the teens about resources and further training available, particularly ResCare, a nationwide program that provides services to youth. “ResCare follows up with them to do more detailed career exploration, identify educational goals and help them find jobs,” she says. “I coordinate with ResCare as well as provide follow up with youth that can include getting them Big Brothers or Big Sisters and career mentors.”

Shad Hail, a Juvenile Court Administrator in Lewis County, believes the program has the potential to make lasting change. “It’s about a lot more than just staying out of the criminal justice system,” he says. “We invest in them now and they can break out of the cycle of poverty. Many of them are perpetually on the edge of being homeless. This gives them the understanding of the value of a career and a chance to find something they’re passionate about.”

Funding for Uplift! came to PacMtn Workforce Development Council through a federal grant for job skills training for youth between ages 14 and 24. When PacMtn put out a request for proposals, Big Brothers Big Sisters won the bid for YouthWorks which includes Uplift! training. “One of our goals is to connect the youth to work-based learning activities,” says Stacey Anderson, Youth and Specialized Population Program Manager for PacMtn. “We administer the grant and leverage the partnership between BBBS and ResCare.”

Although the program is still in its first year, already five students have begun new jobs and four more have strong potential for employment. “The early signs indicate there’s a definite benefit for those who want to start working toward a career,” says Hail. “These are kids who know what they want to accomplish but not how to get there.”

The greatest benefits are internal, according to Kirn. “They’ve had really difficult lives. I can see a change, even in just two days, in how they’re thinking and feeling about things. They start to realize that they are worthwhile and have strengths and talents and a future. That belief in themselves is fantastic to see.”

The next step will be matching the youth with adult mentors. “We’re excited to see what phase two brings,” says Kirn. “Being a Big doesn’t take a lot of time and can make a huge difference in a youth’s life. Mentors and mentees meet twice a month at a time that fits everyone’s schedule and do activities they both enjoy. Anyone interested in learning about becoming a Big for this program should call me”.

Kirn can be reached at 360-943-0409 x 104. To learn more about Big Brothers Big Sisters, visit www.swwabigs.org .