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Q&A: Green Chimneys on Helping Youth Secure Meaningful Internships and Employment Opportunities

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Interns at a fashion house.

Green Chimneys, a New York-based nonprofit organization, uses animal-assisted therapy and nature-based activities to strengthen the emotional health and well-being of young people and families and to foster independence. The organization recently received a grant to establish a career development program for foster care and runaway and homeless lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth living in New York City. NCFY interviewed Theresa Nolan, NYC Division Director, and Sarah Miles, Career Training Director, about the program.

National Clearinghouse on Families & Youth (NCFY): Tell us about the Farm and Wildlife Centers Internship Program.

Theresa Nolan: It’s a new career training program that focuses on careers in nature-based areas, and the youth in the program will get work experience on our farm. The program lasts 18 weeks with three phases: the first phase is entirely classroom training, the second phase is work experience training, and the final phase is an actual internship placement on our farm upstate or another animal-assisted or nature-based program, such as a veterinarian’s office or park facility.

We currently have seven program participants who range in age from 16 to 21 years, and the program pays for things the young people need to participate, like work clothing and boots.

NCFY: What do homeless youth say when they first hear about the program?

Sarah Miles: Overall they are very excited about the opportunity to try new things. They are especially excited about the idea to get to go upstate and interact with our farm animals and experience camping. They are also apprehensive because for some this is a big step outside their comfort zone.

Nolan: A lot of them are inner-city youth who don’t get these kinds of experiences. Many of them are interested in learning about plants and animals and exploring career possibilities.

NCFY: What do they say once they start the program?

Miles: Once they have started the program, participants enjoy sharing stories of their interactions with the other youth and the animals on the farm. They share experiences about nature and respond positively to the idea of getting to engage their environment. They report a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction at the end of their work day. They report making meaningful connections to new people and places.

NCFY: How can homeless youth use the skills they learn from the internship in other areas of employment?

Nolan: Plenty of ways! We’re teaching basic job and career skills, like how to make a good first impression, workplace behaviors and etiquette, and goal-setting. Youth are able to interact with animals in a farm setting, which gives them a different socialization aspect in comparison to their normal environment. We’re hoping that youth will take away ideas for possible careers in nature-based fields.

NCFY: What ways can other homeless youth organizations replicate an internship like yours?

Nolan: Most RHY programs probably include life skills training. We just amped up our life skills coverage around career preparation. We wanted to go beyond “here’s how to write a resume” and interview practices. We wanted to give our youth some tools to keep in their toolbox regardless of the career they choose and to understand the difference between a job and a career path.

NCFY: What advice would you give to youth workers in helping homeless youth secure meaningful employment or internships?

Miles: It's important to connect youth to opportunities that match their interests and also help provide the young person with support to successfully engage in new things and navigate the working world.

Nolan: Be open-minded. Look at career options that young people may not have presented. Look to community partners for opportunities.

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