An Ideal First Job: Helping Others

WorkWell Neighborhood Enhancement Team: In Photos

Last week concluded a summer of WorkWell, our employment program for youth, ages 14-15, made possible by Opportunity NOW, an initiative by Nashville's Mayor, Megan Barry.  Our program empowered over two dozen young people with valuable workplace skills as they engaged in projects that benefitted hundreds of people, from children to the elderly. 

For several weeks, I followed the Neighborhood Enhancement Team, which was led by Brianne Botzum (a student at the Institute for G.O.D. and the team's near-peer coach) and Denise Bennecker (volunteer extraordinaire). The team learned practical, hands-on skills in organization, landscaping, team cooperation, and how to use a variety of tools, all while positively impacting our the Hopewell neighborhood in Old Hickory.

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Here, the crew is seen cutting away unwanted brush from an elderly neighborhood widow’s yard that blocked her kitchen window view.  While photographing them in their first few days, it was obvious to me in their initial, somewhat awkward approach to the job, most of them had never touched simple landscaping tools. However, under the expertise of Denise, they had an excellent learning experience. Throughout the summer, I saw their hesitation and timid approach melt away, being replaced by confidence and consideration. Most importantly, the meaningfulness of the task had them considering the value in neighborly care.

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One of their other major projects involved constructing wooden planter boxes meant to improve aesthetic and safety qualities of several mailboxes in Hopewell.  Under Joel Olson’s supervision, they built and installed the boxes from scratch, and along the way learned how to measure, saw, nail, and designate team roles.

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The planter boxes are a substantial improvement to the former quality of the mailboxes, but I think there’s more to be said about the quality of the first-job experience these kids received. 

I remember my first job working as a gas station clerk.  It offered its own set of lessons, which I was mostly left to digest on my own and in retrospect, they were mostly, if not altogether, disconnected from considerations of being a benefit to society at large.  Such is not the case with WorkWell. Not only were the youth given the opportunity to earn some cash for the summer, they were carefully guided in how do quality work and in how to understand the broader-picture significance of their participation in the work. Their experience far surpasses the opportunity I had, and I'm grateful they received such a healthy start to their work life.