Work Life Moves Teens Beyond Job Readiness

The heart behind WorkLife goes far beyond just giving teens a job for the summer. It captures their attention, creating more self-awareness, vulnerability, and understanding of how they function in the world.“There is so much life and potential for life when I look at these young people,” shares Arnold Sojourner, Managing Director of Programs and Community Outreach, who is heading into his fourth summer of running the WorkLife program at Sunshine. “It gives us the opportunity each morning during these 6 weeks to pray over them, inspire them, listen to them, and build upon their skills so they are better prepared to head out into the world, knowing their lives and their future matter.”

The basic premise of WorkLife, founded in 2015, is to provide students (ages 16-20) with paid internship opportunities during the summer.  Sojourner specifically crafted the program to move beyond typical job readiness training. Many programs focus on interviewing skills, resume building, and employment expectations.  WorkLife includes all of these topics but in addition sets aside time each morning to specifically focus on character building in that he also teaches Time Management, Financial Literacy, and Effective Communication.  Building holistically into the teens is a fundamental part of preparing them to function outside of the neighborhood context. The goal is to prepare them to flourish in jobs outside the community after they have spent 1-2 summers working with Sunshine.  

A few alumni of WorkLife are doing just that.  Ayrianna Longs is heading into her junior year at North Park University studying Sociology and will be coming back to speak to WorkLife students this summer.  She has held jobs at restaurants and her college since her time as a teen in WorkLife. Additionally, she will be employed during the summer at Sunshine working with the BridgeBuilders program as an Intern.  Marquis McCoy is also an alumnus of WorkLife and has been attending Harold Washington Community College as well as working part-time and starting his own business designing shirts. He credits WorkLife and the mentorship of Sojourner in giving him the tools, guidance, and confidence to balance all the demands of school and work.  “WorkLife helped me learn the importance of time management and how I can set myself up for my future by what I’m doing today, even if I can’t see what the future holds.”

This summer, 15-20 Woodlawn teens will participate in WorkLife from July 2nd through August 10th.  Each morning for an hour they will attend class at Sunshine before heading out into their internship assignments.  The theme of the morning class this year is “What You Believe Matters” and will cover topics ranging from “Time Matters” (time management) to “Money Matters” (budgeting skills) to “Truth Matters” (importance of integrity), which all reinforce skills needed in the work environment to succeed.  After class each morning, the students will head to their work assignments for the day. They are placed throughout the Woodlawn community, some working in the Sunshine summer youth programs, some working with BridgeBuilders, some with a not for profit partner, and others working for a community dry cleaners, maintenance company, and window washing company.  At the end of the summer, this work experience gives them far more than a paycheck. It builds on a foundation that is reinforced throughout the rest of the year by Sunshine’s programs that their lives matter and their future matters.