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Summer Jobs Program for Teens from Refugee Families Landing Full-Time Jobs for High School Graduates

Owensboro Community and Technical College

An Owensboro area initiative helping to place high school students from refugee families into summer jobs is proving to be more successful than just temporary work. Many of the young people in the program  who have already graduated from high school have found permanent employment.

In this first year of the summer refugee youth program, sponsored by Owensboro Community and Technical College, 15 teenagers have found jobs. The 16-to-18-year-old students from Daviess County and Owensboro public schools are mainly from families who came to Kentucky from Myanmar, also known as Burma, and Somalia.

The younger students who complete the 8-week program will return to high school in the fall. But 10 of the students who have already graduated will continue working with their employers.

Karri Calhoun is coordinator of Refugee Employment Services for Owensboro  Community and Technical College. She said some of the businesses taking part in the program are offering language interpreters to help the young people transition into a variety of jobs.

“A large portion of them are working in light industry and manufacturing work. We have a few in hospitality and a couple in landscaping, as well.”

Some area companies taking part in the program are Unifirst, OMICO and Sun Windows. The businesses are paying wages that average more than nine dollars an hour.

The program began during the last week of May with a new four-day course called ‘The American Workplace.’

The teenagers got training on a wide range of subjects to help them prepare to enter the workforce, including how to take public transportation and write a resume. They took part in a mock job fair that included an interview.

“We feel like we were very successful in getting them ready, at least for the job search part, in helping them be more comfortable in reaching out to different businesses, instead of going to their normal comfort zone and just applying where their family has always applied,” said Calhoun.

The teen program launched this year with a $45,000 grant from the Kentucky Office of Refugees, an agency of Catholic Charities.

Calhoun said the success of the youth initiative has sparked interest from some adult refugees who are now more enthusiastic about reaching out to businesses they haven’t considered before, where they are likely to get higher-paying jobs.

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