Connecticut organization runs work-based learning program for teens

By Eileen Weber
October 9th, 2019

Connecticut-Junior-RepublicThis summer, Waterbury high school students got a chance at real-life skill building and resume development thanks to grants from the American Savings Foundation, the Frederick W. Marzahl Memorial Fund and other in-kind contributions given to the Connecticut Junior Republic (CJR).

The organization’s combined programs annually serve approximately 1,500 boys and girls. In their summer program, at-risk and disadvantaged teens developed work experience that could help them land a future dream job.

Just ask Victor Marcial. A recent University of Hartford graduate, he pursued a degree in visual communications all because of the CJR program. He started with their after-school program in the sixth grade and continued with the summer program every year, including his time in college when he interned as their graphic design instructor.

As far as Victor is concerned, he wouldn’t be where he is today without it.

“It was a great experience to receive the opportunity to find different career paths and skills. They helped me with scholarship funding and connected me with other foundations,” he said. “CJR turns into a family. I go back and visit every time I’m in town.”

Younger brother Josh followed in Victor’s footsteps. He went through the program and is currently studying media communications with an emphasis on journalism at the University of Hartford. Like Victor, he credits CJR for his accomplishments.

“I got a glimpse of the real world and what’s going to happen in the future,” he said. “Once I’ve been prepped, it’s my turn to take that knowledge into the world.”

Josh interned this past summer at the Neighborhood Housing Services in Waterbury. He remarked that the video and editing skills he gained from CJR—not his current undergraduate classes—were what helped him do the job.

While neither of the brothers were at-risk kids, they knew plenty in the program who were. They said the students were a mix of kids who needed an opportunity just like this one to give them a head start. As CJR president Dan Rezende puts it, getting the kids in the program and keeping them there is what it’s all about.

“[Many of] these kids were selected because they were at-risk and part of one of our prevention programs like mental wellness, substance abuse, or the teen pregnancy prevention program,” he explained. “We feel strongly that the best treatment program is prevention.”

In addition to practical experience, the program pays a stipend. Each teen gets paid a flat rate of $80 to work 25 hours per week, typically in a time frame from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. similar to a school day.

The program is comprised of four main elements: culinary, video communications, landscaping and horticulture, and entrepreneurship. Thy have about 10 kids in each group with five supervisors that function like mentors.

Within the six-week program, the first week hones interview skills and resume development. During the remaining five weeks, the kids get hands-on experience with the subject of their choice. For example, the culinary students catered lunch each day for the other students. Some of those culinary students have gone on to top schools like Johnson & Wales in Rhode Island and the Culinary Institute of America in New York.

Founded over a century ago, CJR has provided care, treatment, education, and family support for troubled young people with the aim of helping them become productive and fulfilled members in their homes, schools, and communities.

CJR’s summer program is a work-based leadership model they have had in place since 1997. Plans are underway for it to continue next summer.

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