Square Offers Internship, Then Hires Youth

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(Left to Right) SLATE Business Developer, Ken Riddick, with program participant, Antoine and Square HR Manager, Dione Turner

A high tech boom is accelerating in St. Louis, offering opportunities for tech-savvy workers from all backgrounds. Square, newly located at the heart of St. Louis’ Cortex District and its community of innovators, opened a customer service center to take advantage of local talent. The service industry requires intelligent, bright, responsible, self-motivated employees with a quality work ethic and superb people skills, along with at least entry-level technical skills. Square was certain such employees could be found within communities traditionally overlooked by tech sector recruiters.

Truly innovative and forward thinking, Square presented SLATE with an unprecedented project – creating a paid internship program for deserving youth from underserved urban African-Americans communities locally. The internships represented a chance not only to gain experience and skills in a fast-paced environment, but also the opportunity to be hired as a permanent member of Square’s team. Eager SLATE staff helped identify youth for this new enrichment opportunity.

With SLATE’s help, Square’s Dione Turner and Kimberly Radich, indentified 15 youth willing to enroll, and eight were placed in internships. For the next three weeks interns were at SLATE learning life skills/soft skills and computer skills, followed by 12-weeks of personalized on-the-job training in cooperation with mentors from Square. The professional mentors focused on long-term development and upstream thinking as well as serving as a ‘sidekick’ – always available to offer advice and reinforce an intern’s specific areas of concern.

Customer skills the interns developed included time management, patience, listening, learning on the fly, positive peer relationships and multi-tasking. All eight participants found the experience worthwhile and grew from it.

In late June 2016, two of the interns were hired by Square full-time.  As with all staff at the facility, they were graded on performance, in part through customer surveys. One of them, Antoine, was rated a Top Performer in August.

The experience also turned out to be transformative for Square. Square told us that the program is undergoing a continuing process of refinement, but they are definitely looking to bring it to the other sites in California and New York in the future.

According to SLATE Director of Youth Services, Dr. Alice Prince, internship are sometimes offered to youth with minor offences. “Square has a transformational environment, ideas, and leadership,” she said. “They [Square] have a unique culture… a culture of community, inclusivity, acceptance, and respect for others.”

Such atmosphere of inclusiveness elevates overlooked youth, empowers them to become useful in their communities, and encourages problem solving. As a team, Square interns help create products and services that push boundaries and innovate businesses worldwide and support local economies.

They have opened the door of opportunity for young St. Louisans and SLATE is proud to continue the partnership.

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24-Hour High School Opens at SLATE

473053205SLATE’s new and unprecedented workforce program have extended services for youth customers after SLATE’s normal closing hours at 5 p.m. Never before have young adults, many of whom are working parents, had an opportunity to attain a High School Diploma and jump start to better jobs with support services available to them 24-hours a day.

To deliver services, SLATE, in partnership with St. Louis Public Schools (SLPS), has opened a virtual high school at its location at 1520 Market Street. This SLPS satellite, called the Workforce High School (WHS), is for young adults, ages 17-21, who have previously dropped out of school. Eligible candidates must be eligible to attend school at SLPS.

Under the program, in addition to high school curriculum and access to teachers, a computer lab, educational resources and technical assistance, young men and women will have 24/7 access to education mentorship and case management services. SLATE will help young people navigate responsibilities at home, school, work, at times dealing with probation and parole, handling doctor visits, and providing daycare for their children.

“There is a gap in services for young people who dropped out of high school. They are in need of a second chance and a different venue to get their high school education,” said Dr. Alice Prince, Manager of SLATE Young Adult Workforce Division. “Many of them are parents, some are working two or three jobs, but they still need a way to get their education. We are meeting them where they are,” she said.

Dr. Prince also said that workers with a High School Diploma or GED have a better chance of landing a better job and live above the minimum wage. She says many young adults, especially those with children, do want to do better for themselves and their families. Once they complete their high school education through WHS, SLATE will continue helping them find better employment and career options.

To operate WHS, SLATE will be using federal funding from its regular budget for youth services, in addition to SLPS funds. So far, 20 young men and women have been enrolled into the program. Dr. Prince said more than 20 young adults are on the waiting list.

“This is the first time that the St. Louis Workforce Development Board (WDB) has opened a high school that is operable 24 hours a day,” Dr. Prince said. “Every youth who dropped out of school, who is willing to go back, deserves an opportunity to complete their education and sometimes this can’t be done during normal business hours, between 9 -5, because their lives aren’t so normal.”

SLATE’s Pilot Program Aims at Helping Inmates Transition from Jail to Jobs

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SLATE Executive Director Michael Holmes speaks at the Prison to Prosperity press conference, September 8, 2015

Until recently, there was no established re-entry program for young offenders in the City of St. Louis that offered jobs and quality training post their release out of the correctional system. Unable to find jobs, young felons return to their distressed communities and go right back to committing crimes and violence.The new program, from Prison to Prosperity, aims to connect inmates, housed at the city’s Medium Security Institution (MSI), to job opportunities and credentialed training while they are incarcerated. Over 12 months, young adults ages 17-24 will get job and financial literacy training, as well as leadership development, community empowerment, conflict mediation and other social services. There is enough funding for 130 inmates.

A press conference that officially launched from Prison to Prosperity, took place on September 8, 2015. Mayor Slay, along with other members of his administration and representatives of social services agencies, gathered in front of the MSI.

“We have been doing re-entry programs in the past,” Slay said. “But this is a new program. We’ve not seen anything like it as long as I can recall here at MSI, or at any other city institutions.”

The city’s Corrections Commissioner Dale Glass, Ranken Technical College President Stan Shoun, SLATE Executive Director Michael K. Holmes, made statements on the elements that make up from Prison to Prosperity.

“This kind of a program gives us an opportunity to divert them from a life of crime, and give them a chance to be productive in a community,“ said Dale Glass.

SLATE is responsible for job development, job readiness and financial literacy training, in partnership with the Fist Financial Credit Union, MERS Goodwill, Better Family Life, and Ranken Technical College. By introducing young inmates to a disciplined learning environment and giving them the job skills, SLATE and partnering agencies believe they will be able to reinforce positive behaviors and decrease the likelihood of youth returning back to jail. Additionally, Ranken has pledged scholarships to participants who go on to attend classes.

To serve inmates, from Prison to Prosperity case manages, facilitators, and Ranken instructors will be working on site at MSI to jump start the learning process and creating a path to a new, constructive, crime-free life.

 “We are hoping that an individual, understanding why they’re in here, will be enthusiastic about the help we’re giving them,” said Michael Holmes, “and will change their life.”

With crime running 13 percent ahead of last year and the city on track to have more than 200 homicides for the first time since 1995, officials are hopeful that from Prison to Prosperity program will help them get the rising crime rate under control.

The story uses material from the article published in the St. Louis American.