Durham youth build career skills and experience through service

January 6, 2018
Students from Performance Learning Center package food at a Durham food bank.

When Performance Learning Center (PLC) teacher Wendy Anderson began helping students in her career skills course learn how to prepare a resume, she quickly realized they were missing a key component.

“They had no work experience!” Anderson recalls.

She drew on her passion for volunteerism as a solution. The result: an ongoing program of volunteering for students at the Durham Public Schools alternative school that helps students learn skills that will serve them in the workplace and experiences they can showcase on their resumes.

PLC is one of Made in Durham’s four academic recovery partners that pilot innovations designed to help more Durham youth graduate from high school, transition to a post-secondary program and prepare to enter a career by age 25.

Anderson’s students have volunteered for Habitat for Humanity, East Durham Children’s Initiative, Durham Parks & Recreation Department and the Durham branch of the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina, among others.

“The goal is for these students to get volunteer experience and the opportunity to learn skills that will serve them in the workplace,” Anderson says.

This year, Made in Durham plugged a funding gap for transportation, securing grant funds from Duke Energy and discounted fares from Greenway Transit, so that PLC students can serve at the food bank monthly. Duke Energy is a major investor in Made in Durham. Greenway Transit uses biodiesel buses to protect the environment and drive local employment opportunities.

Students gain a variety of hard and soft work-related skills by volunteering, Anderson says. At the food bank, students set up assembly-line style to package food, which teaches process skills and working collaboratively. At a Durham Parks & Rec food distribution event, students set up food tables and hand out food to senior citizens, which teaches social skills. At a Habitat for Humanity build, students who had never hammered a nail learned to use tools of all kinds and paint, and one helped frame a crawl space.

“These are skills they can take into the workplace,” says Anderson.

“One of the things I love about the food bank is that, at the end of the day, they give you a total of what you’ve accomplished,” she says. “Students may bag 480 pounds of food. It’s powerful when you see that, and they get a great sense of satisfaction.”

In addition, students value the opportunity to serve, she says. “They always come back saying what a cool thing it is to do, and asking me if they can go back on their own. Many of our students have issues with food insecurity, so it’s a way for them to give back to a nonprofit that has benefitted them.”


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Made in Durham is a community partnership of educators, business, government, youth-serving nonprofits and young people mobilized around a shared vision that all of Durham’s youth will complete high school and a post-secondary credential and begin a rewarding career by the age of 25.
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