By Stacey Shannon—
MUNCIE, IN—Designed to give teens their first employment experiences as well as life skills to benefit them throughout college and beyond, TeenWorks is a local non-profit that is making a big impact by empowering teens to achieve excellence in community, college and career.
TeamWork’s Director of Eastern Indiana Kari Wissel said this summer the organization will employ more than 100 students in the Muncie area for six weeks. Each student works at a non-profit agency four days a week, while one day a week is dedicated to professional development. During these workshops students focus on financial literacy, career exploration, leadership development, professional communication, and more.
Wissel said TeenWorks is intentional about making sure students succeed by providing them transportation, snacks, lunch and uniforms as well as all equipment necessary to complete their projects. The students earn $8/hour, 30 hours per week, but have the opportunity to earn more through weekly and end of summer bonuses. With TeenWorks covering these wages, the nonprofit worksite partners reap the benefits of having 10 to 12 students consistently throughout the summer.
“Having a team of students for six weeks is huge for the organizations,” Wissel said, mentioning TeenWorks partners with a wide variety of groups including Prairie Creek, Inside Out, Red-tail Land Conservancy, Cardinal Greenway, Second Harvest, Ball Memorial Hospital, Muncie Public Library and more.
Students’ tasks depend on where they work. Past projects include removing invasive species, maintaining community gardens, beautification projects and more.
“It’s great because if students return summer after summer, they can get a taste of these different paths available post-grad,” Wissel said.
The professional development days each week also help the teens with honing their abilities to become productive members of the workforce and have a good quality of life as adults.
“We want these students to develop the soft skills necessary for them to be successful in the workplace independently,” Wissel said.
Part of that success is making plans for after high school. This year, TeenWorks will host an experiential career day that will allow students to be involved hands-on with various careers represented. TeenWorks also has a year-round Pro program for students in grades 10 through 12 that helps them develop post-secondary success plans.
Wissel said the program helps students identify the best plan for them, whether that includes college, trade school, apprenticeships, the military or going straight into the workforce. The Pro program also gives teens opportunities to visit colleges and universities, which is something they might not be able to do otherwise.
The organization, which targets students who are on free or reduced lunch, plans its programs to be as accessible as possible to underserved students. In fact, TeenWorks also gives out $500,000 in need-based scholarships anually.
“We just want students to have a thought-out, meaningful plan that matches their interests and can support them financially,” Wissel said.
A third component of TeenWorks is the alumni services department provides additional support and resources upon high school graduation. Sixteen universities throughout the state have TeenWorks alumni cohorts to give students a support system as they navigate campus. Wissel said many are first generation college students and having added support is especially helpful.
Just recently, Ball State University established TeenWorks@BSU, a program offering TeenWorks’ alumni one-on-one case management, individual advisers, micro-grant opportunities, additional scholarship opportunities and philanthropy opportunities.
“This program is totally unique,” Wissel said. “This is the first of its kind, thanks to the support of our board of directors and Ball State University for making that happen.”
TeenWorks has two major fundraisers each year: 20 Teens Who Cook in the spring and the TeenWorks Tourney in the fall. Along with that, the organization is always looking for volunteers, speakers and individual donors. More information is available at www.teenworks.org.
Wissel said she and the other staff at TeenWorks remain dedicated to what they do because of the growth they see in their students, who are the future workforce.
“I love watching the students blossom and develop in their own unique way. Seeing them establish what they bring to the table excites me for the future,” she said.
This article has been sponsored by Pridemark Construction.
421 S Walnut St #2459, Muncie, IN 47305
Phone: (765) 284-3833