Green Valley Enterprises summer program brings students paying jobs in the community

June 28, 2018

A new summer program is giving local students the sweet taste of a first paycheck.

Green Valley Enterprises, a nonprofit organization based in Beaver Dam that works with individuals who have special needs, is running the Summer Life Academy Program with 30 students, teenagers up to age 21, from seven different school districts. Students get paid to work at jobs with local businesses and also tackle volunteer work.

The program is funded through the state Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and is a spin-off of Green Valley’s school year programming. It’s the finalized version after a few years of fine tuning to add more structure and accountability.

“The beauty of it, it’s to have them test the water,” said Meredith Winning, the employment and outreach coordinator for Green Valley. “We wanted to let them know there are so many possibilities, the sky is the limit, especially in Dodge County. There’s a lot of opportunities.”

The students work 2-4 hour shifts, rotating through five local businesses: Old Hickory Golf Club, Horicon Hills Golf Club, PS Seasonings and Spices, the Dodge County Humane Society and Schumann Printers.

The students are paid a full wage for their work, a draw to the program.

“What’s more catchy than money,” Winning said. “Everyone likes money.”

The jobs can include setting and keeping up dining areas for events, food packaging, paper recycling and helping take care of general maintenance.

“I’ve gotten phone calls from parents crying when their son or daughter received their first paycheck because they were told that they were losers and they would never be able to do something like that, so to make that much of a difference, that impact, is the best feeling ever” Winning said. “So many of the parents are already asking if they can sign up again for next summer.”

The program also seeks to help students learn more abstract skills, like how to dress professionally, self-confidence and interacting with others.

The students also do volunteer work, such as at the Central Wisconsin Community Action Council food pantry, 134 S. Spring St., and the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, 1022 Madison St. They also grow their own food at the community garden and donate it.

Winning said the summer program has come together well with all the moving parts.

“You never know when you’re taking so many different families and blending them because, let’s face it, they’re coming from all over,” she said. “So you’re mixing 30 kids, you’re telling them that you have to go to work, you’re telling them that they have to have a dress code. There’s just so many things and I was nervous, I really was.”

Next summer, Green Valley would like have the students involved in more volunteer work.

“If we can continue to teach them those skills because those are pretty humble things to have taught to you,” Winning said. “If we start young like this by the time they’re 18, they’ll be ready to go. That’s the end goal, to teach them these skills that they need to be employable so they don’t have to just do these summer things.”

Craig Henrickson, the community integration director for Green Valley, said it’s not just about employment.

“It’s employment in a career that the students are going to enjoy, that they’re going to stick with, that they’re going to grow in,” he said. “We’re not just looking at jobs here, were looking at long-term employment.”