Cherish summer in Santa Fe with good books, lush gardens, buzzing bees, a trip to the zoo, a science project or two, and the restorative balm of children's creativity.
The silky soft gypsum of White Sands are the perfect place to make some sand angels.
Photo by Tira Howard.
By Melynn Schuyler
Santa Fe nonprofit provides innovative education, training and employment opportunities.
YouthWorks, a Santa Fe organization offering a continuum of education, employment training and job placement services for “at-risk” and disadvantaged youth in our community, celebrated its 20th anniversary this spring. As founder and executive director, I am humbled and absolutely awed by this achievement.
YouthWorks’ skill-based, “learn as you go” model implements a holistic approach, combined with GED coursework and job training. YouthWorks studies the local labor market indicators to provide career training in industries with available jobs in the local economy.
We now offer training and hands-on projects through the construction trades, building low-income housing and conducting energy-efficiency retrofitting projects. Our culinary arts training program has made thousands of homemade meals for children, families and guests of emergency shelters, in addition to developing a professional catering business. YouthWorks’ partner organizations train youth in environmental restoration, agricultural production, mural arts and screen-printing arts, and offer the skills and certifications for wildland firefighting. YouthWorks is on a roll at age 20, and we are strategic in our program development to expand or build from scratch the programs that elevate our youth, while providing benefits to the Santa Fe community.
I have thousands of stories from my 20 years of leading YouthWorks. Hundreds of young people walk through our doors every year looking for jobs, education alternatives, work opportunities, training, tutoring and guidance. Theirs are success stories of finding a path of stability and opportunity, and bittersweet stories of youth already in situations of crisis or tragedy. Their stories have become intertwined with my own story of living, working and raising my family in Santa Fe.
I moved to Santa Fe from California in the early ’90s after completing my graduate work in marriage, family and child therapy. My plan was to be a counselor helping clients one-on-one. It soon became clear to me, however, that there was a systemic gap in services offered in the Santa Fe community for young people, especially those who were not connected to traditional pathways of school, work and family. I wanted to fill the gap with a program offering the basic education and skills those young people needed. I wanted to give them creative alternatives, ones that could be filled and sustained with positivity and compassion, focused on a youth’s strengths rather than deficits. Without this, I saw how so many young people found their educations stalled, or their futures entangled in the judicial system, or their lives simply stuck without meaningful, income-supporting jobs.
I was fortunate to be working already with young people in the community. Together, we worked to perform small, unpaid, unrecognized community projects. Over time we started to create the idea and design for an organization. Out of this planning, YouthWorks was launched in 2001, and gradually grew to become an innovative, multifaceted nonprofit serving youth and the greater Santa Fe community.
Now in 2021, YouthWorks has expanded its partnerships that provide wages for many of the 1,200 young people that we serve annually. Youth clients are employed in our culinary training program in the leased commercial kitchen at El Rancho de Las Golondrinas; in our farming projects with partners including Reunity Resources, Alas de Agua Art Collective, Mother Nature Center and Santa Fe County; at construction sites where we build homes for families through Habitat for Humanity; in our environmental restoration crews that repair and preserve our trails, rivers and natural resources in partnership with the city of Santa Fe; and many other projects that serve the community along the way.
All of these opportunities include YouthWorks classroom learning and credentialing, offered by an incredible team of staff instructors and trainers. With our state Youth Conservation Corps and federally-funded YouthBuild programming, we offer paid work and skill-based learning alongside classroom study and GED attainment. YouthWorks’ staff and board members are committed to a “whatever it takes” approach to meet current local trends and needs. As evidenced by our services preparing and delivering hundreds of thousands of made-fresh daily meals throughout COVID, YouthWorks adapts its programming, efforts and focus to meet new community needs and workforce training demands.
Looking forward, we continue our partnerships and programming and are reintroducing our catering services for special events, mobilizing our food truck and conducting in-person learning as we adapt to an ever-changing world.
This year, YouthWorks is collaborating with Rose’s Kitchen, an outdoor farm-based restaurant serving lunch and dinner six days per week at Reunity Resources at San Ysidro Crossing (see their article in this issue). YouthWorks conservation corps program is kicking off now with a new cohort of young people who will learn and work on the farm, and work on local environmental restoration projects in partnership with the city and county, while also pursuing their GEDs and credentials in our classroom.
I’ve been told that I am a nurturer. This is the result of my strong belief in the power of positive relationships. Along with being the mother of three young adults, ages 18, 22 and 25, I have also been a nurturer to thousands of youths who graduated from the YouthWorks family with the skills, education and opportunities that they required to be self-confident, self-directed and productive members of the community. Many of those former youths have returned after starting their own businesses in Santa Fe to hire the next generation of YouthWorks graduates.
I am infinitely grateful to see our work come full circle. YouthWorks believes that when we help one, we help the greater whole, and I personally believe that our efforts have improved not only thousands of lives but also our entire community.
If you would like to help YouthWorks continue our work into our next decade, please make a donation here.