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Nonprofit profile: TeenForce opens job doors for local youth

Nonprofit sets up office at Friendly Inn

Published in the August 20 – September 3, 2014 issue of Morgan Hill Life

By Marty Cheek

Photo by Marty Cheek Quinn Phan, a TeenForce participant, now works at Postal Annex.

Photo by Marty Cheek
Quinn Phan, a TeenForce participant, now works at Postal Annex.

Young people like Quinn Phan need opportunities to build their job skills for future career success. Through the nonprofit TeenForce, Phan found that opportunity recently by getting a job as a clerk at Morgan Hill’s Postal Annex franchise. TeenForce is a social enterprise that serves as a job-placement agency for foster youth and other young people like Phan.

“They give a lot of training to the youth, and I think it’s a great mission overall helping foster youth and young people,” the 20-year-old U.C. Berkeley biology major said. “They have multiple job trainings every month for retail skills, that kind of thing, and they help you with your resume and (job application) paperwork. They even help you get a bank account if you don’t have one.”

Postal Annex co-owner Brenda Conner found out about TeenForce at a Chamber of Commerce monthly breakfast when she sat next to founder John Hogan. When her daughter quit working at the postal services store, Conner dreaded the process of going through resumes and interviews to find a new employee. She called around to see if anyone needed a job, but had no luck. Then she remembered her breakfast conversation about TeenForce and called Hogan. A short time later, TeenForce representative Julie Berkovatz provided the names of three possible candidates for the position.

“It made it a lot easier to find an employee,” Conner said. “Instead of putting an ad in the paper, I went to TeenForce. They kind of screen everybody for you and find candidates who they think will be a good fit and work well.”

Started by Hogan in April 2010 in Los Gatos, the organization has evolved its self-sustaining staffing agency model to offer Silicon Valley businesses a convenient and cost-effective platform to employ enthusiastic and well prepared young workers, said Claudia Rossi, regional business development manager. TeenForce provides youth with training for the work environment, skills development and job placement services. The program is open to all youth ages between the ages of 14 and 20. For current and former foster youth, it extends the age range to 24. As of July, it has 370 young people employed with 73 clients.

Photo by Marty Cheek  Julie Berkovatz, TeenForce foster youth coordinator, and Claudia Rossi, TeenForce regional business development manager.

Photo by Marty Cheek
Julie Berkovatz, TeenForce foster youth coordinator, and Claudia Rossi, TeenForce regional business development manager.

For the last 12 months, TeenForce has tried to gain traction in the South Valley region, but due to the difficulty of maintaining a presence here without a permanent office, the organization found few businesses willing to take on young people as employees. In July, TeenForce opened a branch office provided by the city of Morgan Hill at the Friendly Inn site on Crest Avenue where it is staffed by Rossi and Berkovatz.

“As a city and as a school district, Morgan Hill has made a commitment to support the 41 Developmental Assets program. And a key one is seeing youth as resources,” Rossi said. “I think TeenForce is a perfect vehicle to do that. We literally recruit youth, we mentor them, we train them and then we connect them to employers. They’re literally a resource, and it’s our job to knock on those doors and say, ‘Take a look at this applicant. This is a deserving youth who can help you in your business.’”

Often, businesses such as restaurants or retail store that require extra seasonal help during the holidays and other occasions will call TeenForce for a temporary youth employee. Nonprofit organizations also request help from TeenForce for young people to work on projects or events. TeenForce helps youth build their skills with special job training programs. If an employing organization requests it, TeenForce can also do background checks on the young person such as criminal history, drug testing or whether or not the potential employee has a driver license.

Berkovatz said that by moving to the Friendly Inn office, TeenForce organizers hope to provide a stable site and succeed much like it did in the San Jose-Silicon Valley area in placing youth in jobs with Morgan Hill businesses and nonprofits that need workers and volunteers.

“We try to connect the local youth with the local businesses, and the only way we can really do that is to be immersed in the community,” she said. “Being 20 miles away, realistically we were coming down once or twice a month. So having an office here now, we’re going to be here five, sometimes six days a week, and we’re going to be able to see youth 40 hours a week, and work with businesses 40 hours a week. That will make a big difference.”

Laurie Greer, director of business development and marketing, believes the name TeenForce often misleads people because the nonprofit helps youth who are beyond the teenage years up to the age of 24. The young people TeenForce serves often don’t have the resources to connect with potential employers, so youth are matched with mentors who help them with their job skills, she said.

“TeenForce is about bringing opportunities to the youth and helping to bridge the (job) gap,” Greer said. “So many of our young people, especially when we’re talking about our opportunity youth, foster youth and former foster youth, don’t have the resources or a role model who will show them how to fill out an application or write a resume. Often employers are going to miss out on a huge population of great kids who just need an opportunity….We really do focus on outreach and our community. The kids in this area are your community’s kids, so let’s get them working in this community.”