Ferguson Youth Initiative’s Next Steps

Taking the ‘Next Step’

The Ferguson Youth Initiative’s Next Steps program gets students ready for the workforce

By Sara Hardin

The Ferguson Youth Initiative (FYI), a nonprofit organization that has been empowering the community’s youth since 2010, is celebrating the graduation of eight young adults from its first 2017 Next Steps program.

FYI partnered with SSM Health and Nestlé Purina to develop the six-week program, which helps to equip community youth with the skills necessary to get a job and remain successful in a position. The eight graduates are between the ages of 16-18, and four have taken positions within SSM Health hospitals since completing Next Steps.

Aaron Harris, FYI Executive Director, worked closely with his partners to develop Next Steps and bring the program to life. He says one of his goals was to ensure that the class is accessible to anyone who may need to learn the skills they help to build.

“Any youth is open to attend the class,” said Harris. “The class is free and any youth can attend regardless of zip code.”

Representatives from SSM Health met with the class every week to help explain employer expectations and build skills for more effective interviewing and resume-building.

Jordan Alexander, Talent Acquisition Leader with SSM Health, worked with Harris on the initial development of the program’s curriculum. He believes that without a program like Next Steps, the kids involved might have missed out on developing the skills that are crucial in starting a career.

“Aaron talked to me about creating this Next Steps program through the Ferguson Youth Initiative,” said Alexander. “We sat down and talked about what employers look for to find candidates. We discussed working on resume-building and interviewing skills, and a lot of soft skills that aren’t necessarily taught in classes that are still very important in the workforce.”

The most impressive thing about the program, says Alexander, was the growth that was seen in the kids involved between the first and final classes.

Recruiters from Nestlé Purina and other talent acquisition individuals got involved with the class to do mock interviews, and the skills that the kids had learned throughout the program came into full view.

“When Aaron and I did the initial orientation to talk about the program, there were probably between 30-25 kids who attended. They were all quiet, we couldn’t get any of them to really stand up and talk to us, let alone introduce themselves,” said Alexander. “As the weeks went along, we could see a night and day difference in the kids that stayed in the program. We worked a lot on building confidence and speaking clearly, and they were standing straight and speaking confidently by the final class. I felt like a proud dad watching the kids from the beginning to where they are now. It was really great.”

The techniques required for things such as giving a successful interview, displaying appropriate body language, knowing how to respond to and ask questions and giving an effective introduction can easily be skimmed over or lost in a traditional classroom setting. For this reason, a program such as Next Steps is hugely beneficial in communities where the youth may not have an avenue for honing these “soft skills”.

“For a lot of these kids, this may have been their first time being exposed to the things we were teaching them throughout the program,” said Alexander. “The earlier we can get this to them and help them understand what it takes to be able to get a job, hold a job, be presentable and have all the little skills you can’t really learn in the classroom, the more it will benefit them. It was very important to give these kids an opportunity to learn these things.”

For nonprofits like FYI, a lot of support to continue programs like Next Steps is provided by partnerships and assistance from community members.

“We’re really happy right now with the partnerships that we have and the people that we’re working with,” said Harris. “We definitely always want more partners and more people from the community coming to assist us and our mission.”

Classes for the next Next Steps program begin on Saturday, July 8 at 11 a.m. at 106 Church Street in Ferguson. Classes will be held weekly, and participants must be present for all six weekly sessions to successfully complete the program. For more information, contact Rachel Kirchoff at 314 494-4762 or rachel@fyifergyouth.org. To learn more about FYI, visit fyifergyouth.org.

CUTLINE: Photo courtesy Teyuna Darris Ferguson Youth Initiative Next Steps graduates Carnisha Scott (left) and Shanorria Williams (right) stand with FYI Executive Director Aaron Harris. Scott and Williams completed the program in March.