A $5,000 grant from the Viking Foundation of Lincoln is helping the Boys & Girls Club of Lincoln/Lancaster County expand its career exploration program, called CareerLaunch, for teenage club members.

“Among the most prominent of our Viking Foundation’s core values is that ‘All people deserve an opportunity to learn and work, and to learn to work,’” said Steven Eggland, who created the Viking Foundation in 2012 to help improve and enrich the lives of individuals – especially children – who are less fortunate.

“The modest grant we have made to the Boys & Girls Club provided us with a perfect opportunity to help put that value into action,” Eggland added.

The Viking Foundation grant “really made us evaluate what we could do to step up the career exploration program and push it forward,” said Nick Dean, executive director of the local Boys & Girls Club, which provides after-school and summer programs at Park Middle School, 855 S. Eighth St.

Before receiving the grant, the club only offered career exploration classes in a classroom setting with curriculum provided by the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, said Andy Larson, operations director at the local Boys & Girls Club.

“The grant afforded us the opportunity to expand what we did before,” he said. “Now we can physically transport kids to job sites or have business representatives come and talk to the kids at the club. It makes all the difference in the world. Otherwise, a lot of these kids wouldn’t know those careers are possible.”

So far, club teens have visited or hosted representatives from places like Career Academy (a joint venture between LPS and Southeast Community College), Crete Carrier Corporation, Duncan Aviation, EducationQuest, Old Navy, Southeast Community College, Sysco, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Innovation Campus, Wells Fargo and Talent Plus.

During a summer field trip to Talent Plus, 18 students underwent talent evaluations, Dean said.

“Afterward they called every kid up front, awarded a certificate and told everyone about their strengths,” he said. “The kids got a lot out of it.”

Marquell Richardson, 15, a sophomore at Lincoln High School, said the CareerLaunch program and a summer field trip to visit with Engineers Without Borders at UNL were excellent learning experiences for him.

“It showed me that I want to have a career building things, so I plan to major in either engineering or construction at a four-year university,” Richardson said.

“Completing the program helped me land my first job,” added Alex Torres, 17, a Lincoln High senior. “Skills I learned in the program prepared me for filling out the application and how to present myself at interviews.”

After completing the weekly CareerLaunch curriculum and visiting with various career representatives, 80 percent of working-age participants found part-time jobs this year, said Dean.

More about CareerLaunch

CareerLaunch includes skill-building activities that assist teens in finding and keeping a job, Dean said. Teens receive tips for job hunting, writing cover letters and resumes, and what to wear to an interview.

The program is designed to be comprehensive, introducing young people to the world of work and providing the tools they need to prepare for a career. The program gives youth the opportunity to explore various careers based on their interests and talents, helps them determine the corresponding educational path they need to pursue and guides them in mapping out a plan for their future.

In addition, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America offers a CareerLaunch website, http://www.greatfutures.org/pages/Gap-CareerLaunch.aspx, that helps club members match careers with their interests and talents, identify training and educational/college requirements, and seek financial aid.

Park School addition

Another aid to expanding Boys & Girls Club programs is a 12,500-square-foot addition to Park School. Construction began in April on the $3 million addition, which is one of the final projects paid for with proceeds from an LPS bond issue passed by voters in 2014. A capital campaign by the Boys & Girls Club organization will pay $350,000 toward the Park School addition, which will include a third gymnasium, two additional classrooms and a commons area.

“The goal is to have the addition ready for summer 2017,” Dean said. “We’ll be able to expand our club hours and appeal more to older teens with a special night open until 11 p.m. one Friday a month, and we’ll increase our hours overall until 8 or 9 p.m. for the older kids. New and exciting activities should bring in more older teens. We hope to reconfigure the existing area and dress it up for the younger kids.”

Lincoln Boys & Girls Club

About 1,300 students participate in the local Boys & Girls Club’s after-school and summer programs at Park School, Dean said. A core group of about 250 students attend daily during the school year. Members include high school, middle school and grade school students.

As part of helping kids develop the tools they need to prepare for higher education and a career, club activities begin after school at 3 p.m. with “Power Hour” – a time designated for completing homework with tutoring from Park teachers in classrooms designated by grade levels.

“Power Hour is the first program every day after school from 3 to 4 p.m., and everyone coming to the club that day is required to attend,” Dean said.

After homework is done, club members eat dinner in the school’s cafeteria and participate in a club activity of their choice. Programming at the club from 4 to 7 p.m. is supervised by youth development staff from the Boys & Girls Club.

The club has five full-time staff members and more than 100 volunteers each semester, many of whom are college students. During the summer, an additional 35 part-time staff members assist the program activities.

Lincoln Police Chief Jeff Bliemeister has been a Boys & Girls Club board member for many years. Earlier this year he talked informally with kids at the club about exploring career opportunities in the policing profession.

“We are excited to be part of programming at the Boys & Girls Club, to show the kids at a young age how they can contribute to the success of Lincoln’s future through employment at LPD and in the policing profession,” Bliemeister said. “We are able to show the human side of our officers, lay out challenges they would face and, most importantly, show how they can be a positive influence by being part of our agency. When our officers or I come to the club in uniform, we don’t see hesitation or skepticism in our interactions. The kids want to know who we are and what our jobs entail.”

Bliemeister noted that historically, the time immediately following school being let out and before parents are home is peak for criminal activity.

“As a citizen of Lincoln and as chief of police, I am grateful for the passionate staff at the Boys & Girls Club who dedicate their lives to serving these kids,” he said.

How you can help

Dean said he believes the CareerLaunch program will continue to improve, and “we’ll continue to try to sustain it, but there will be a need for future funds.” If you would like to make a donation to the Boys & Girls Club, contact Dean at 402-477-4134 or ndean@lincolnbgc.org.

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