Keystone Youth Services: A first job that's more than taking orders
By Danielle Wong, Eastview High School
Walking into your first job, you see unfamiliar faces weaving throughout the store and shooting glances your way. Each person seems to play a specific role already.
You stick out like a sore thumb. You have no purpose.
Finally, your mentor appears. Instead of telling you what your first task will be, he asks, “So, what do you want to do today?”
As teens across America begin their first jobs, giving them free reign over the company may not sound like the best idea. But Youth Express at Keystone Youth Services not only wants to employ teens, but also empower them to charge headfirst into the future.
For Rhiannon Magee, a junior at Avalon School, Youth Express has given her the best of both worlds. When she first heard about the program, she did some research, fell in love with its goal of helping teens and immediately asked for an application.
“Coming in and working with everyone, I think that’s not only helping me with my future, but just kind of helping me now in figuring out what I want to do,” Magee said. “Getting to work with other teens who are interested in similar things that I am, and then brainstorming … it’s been really cool.”
Youth Express falls under the umbrella of Keystone Youth Services, a nonprofit, community based human service organization in St. Paul. For 75 years, Keystone has provided a variety of programs for people of all ages in six different locations. Other programs include three food shelves and Meals on Wheels.
What makes Youth Express unique is that it operates on two social enterprises: Express Bike Shop and Express Yourself Clothing, both located in the same building on Selby Avenue. Once bikes have been properly repaired, the refurbished units—along with donated clothes—are sold back to the public. Money earned from these sales pays the salary of the working teens.
“With bikes, people use them and they need them repaired,” said Mary McKeown, director of youth services at Keystone. “Kids grow out of bikes, and they need new bikes. The same thing with clothing.”
On a typical day, Magee works in the clothing shop from 3 to 6:30 p.m. Surrounded by a wild array of clothing and accessories—all donated by individuals or organizations like Goodwill and Savers—Magee is never bored.
Unlike most jobs, where staff members usually work on one aspect of a job, teens in Youth Express shops engage in a variety of tasks—be it for bikes or clothing—each day.
“Sometimes we’d have donations to price and put out. Sometimes it’s as simple as taking some of these old blank T-shirts and putting Bedazzles on them to make them look cool,” Magee said.
Any teen can choose to apply at either the bike shop or the clothing shop, though girls typically run the clothing end while boys dominate the bikes. The hiring process is like any other job: Wait for a callback, attend an interview and hope you get the job.
Youth Express also focuses on teens from St. Paul and tends to attract students from low-income families.
“We always say the easiest part of our job is finding unemployed teens. That’s never been a problem,” said Randy Treichel, enterprise director of Youth Express. “We regularly, this year again, got around 50 applicants for six positions at the bike shop, and 40 applicants for four positions at the clothing store.”
Working in a clothing and bike shop has not only given Magee and other teens an extra source of income at $7.25 an hour, but they also learn how to operate a business.
“I really want to continue working in business and fashion,” she said. “And hopefully one day owning my own business … I found I have a passion for this.”
Ignacio Rivera, a junior at St. Paul Central High School, shares the same drive as Magee. After going through the six-month training program and moving up to an advanced apprenticeship, his biggest takeaway at the bike shop was learning how to talk to customers.
“I used to stutter a little, but I (have) gotten better with them,” Rivera said. “And fixing bikes. I’m thinking about going into auto mechanics. I want to go for car collision repair.”
Helping teens like Rivera plan for the future is a new aspect that Keystone hopes to incorporate into its program soon.
“We’ve been developing a curriculum called Next Steps,” McKeown said. “We learned from our apprentices that (they) finish this job and do all this training, but we often don’t circle back and say, ‘How do you take what you learned in this job and apply it to the next job? And how do you make sure that you take the skills that you learn in this job and add it to your resume?’”
Over spring break, apprentices test-piloted the new curriculum to ensure success at its launch for the next training cycle. Involving youth in the major decisions at Youth Express is a huge reason for the program’s success, McKeown said.
“Youth engagement. The young people really are deciding how things are done,” she said.
“So we have better videos, we have better displays, we have a better training program for our apprentice program. Because young people are very much involved in how we evolve and change and do things.”
Youth workers like Magee are grateful for the opportunity to not only receive direction, but also become leaders and decision makers.
“I really enjoy helping with the marketing, because a lot of the time, the manager and I will sit down and just start brainstorming ways to get people to know about the program,” Magee said.
“Sometimes I’ll walk in, set my stuff down, and they’re like, ‘OK Rhiannon, what do you want to do? Do you want to re-arrange the store? Do you think we should change up some T-shirts?’ We have a lot of say in what goes on.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Danielle Wong is a junior at Eastview High School. Her story on Keystone Youth Services is part of a package by 12 high school students who participated in ThreeSixty Journalism’s residential Intermediate Camp from June 15 to June 27.
Their stories are centered on youth organizations in the metro area that are cultivating the “next generation” of leaders. Click here to read more from ThreeSixty’s summer camp series.