HILLSIDE, NJ — Work Ready Hillside, a six-week summer internship program, has just concluded another successful run. In its third year, the program’s mission is to prepare today’s students for success in both higher education and their future careers.
The program, started by Hillside Mayor Angela Garretson and coordinated by Sam Roberson, assigned students, ages 15 to 24, to different departments and offices in the municipality, including the offices of the mayor, business administrator, finance, tax collector, tax assessor, building department, library, recreation, senior center and public works office. Each week, student assignments focused on a different theme, including career readiness, volunteerism, time management and financial readiness.
Homework assignments included writing resumes and cover letters, and personal budgeting based on paycheck.
The mayor told LocalSource in an email that she started the program in order to provide youth with some real life, hands-on experience in the workforce.
“The Work Ready Hillside program has been running successfully for three years,” Garretson said. “What inspired me to start a program like this was the desire to present a professional opportunity to the youth in our community. I believe that our students just need someone to believe in them, and I crafted the program to not only allow them to believe in themselves, but they also gained my commitment to them to succeed in school or a career.”
“The goal or mission of the Work Ready Hillside program is to prepare our students with essential tools that they will take with them into higher education and/or careers,” Garretson added. “I wanted our town to plant that seed that you can be whatever you want to be if you work hard, and come together as a cohort can put each student on the right path.”
This year’s program hosted 35 students, and each student was introduced to what Garretson called the “10 indicators of success.” Some of those indicators include life skills, listening and speaking skills, reading and writing skills, and personal and social development skills.
Interns were required to keep weekly journals, applying two of the indicators from their work assignments. In addition, students had volunteer requirements in the community, along with weekly group meetings. “The interns were incredible,” Garretson said. “They participated in massive filing missions, answered phones in various departments, helped residents with their concerns, painted, paved and cleaned sidewalks and streets throughout Hillside, organized books in the library, interacted and served our lovely senior citizens and worked on team-building that taught valuable life lessons.”
According to Garretson, students were also required to go on at least one “walk and talk” with the mayor to engage the community in surveys about Hillside. Students received hands-on experience as they listened to residents’ concerns, and also heard about the positive aspects of living in Hillside.
Kenya Jacobs, a Work Ready Hillside student intern coordinator and a sophomore at Morgan State University in Baltimore, has been a part of the program for the past three summers. “Working in the Mayor’s Office for the past three summers, I have worked with plenty of different groups of interns,” Jacobs said. “However, this summer’s group is filled with so many individually strong students, myself included. The fact that Mayor Garretson took time out and showed us how to actually bring our talents together to work as one cohesive group was amazing to be a part of. We reached a level of efficiency in the office that cannot even be compared to the past years.”
Yancey Sanelus, another intern and a junior at Rutgers University, said that he had learned crucial skills through the program. “Working side-by-side with Mayor Garretson has allowed me to grow as I learned the skills that are necessary to keep the day-to-day operations flowing in a demanding work environment,” he said. “I gained a new mentor through this summer internship as I learned the ropes from a well-grounded and warm-hearted leader. The most memorable moment for me was working with my fellow interns to re-organize paperwork in the office. The stress ultimately brought us closer and made us depend on each other in ways that we never expected.”
Kyra Price, who will be attending Union County College in the fall, said that she gained financial awareness from the program. “I have learned to budget my earnings from the Work Ready program, as well as my other incoming earnings,” she said. “The weekly seminars, called the Noon Time Series, taught me important life lessons about financial readiness, budgeting and being responsible.”
At a closing ceremony held last week for the program, representatives from the Family Success Center in Hillside spoke to the interns about community awareness and career readiness.