By Anna Burgess
Sentinel & Enterprise
October 29, 2015
FITCHBURG — Amanda Ludwig credits youth career center MyTurn Inc. with helping her son find focus, direction and a career path.
“If it wasn’t for this, he wouldn’t be in school at all,” said Ludwig, a Fitchburg resident. “It saved his future, in a way.”
Her son, Justin Akins, was a 16-year-old high school dropout last year. Now, he is one course away from earning his HiSET high school diploma equivalent, has so far scored well above average on the HiSET tests, and is working as an assistant automotive technician at A & P Auto in Fitchburg.
By the time he finishes the MyTurn program this winter, Akins will have a completed high school education and on-the-job experience in his chosen career.
The difference between her son a year ago and her son now, Ludwig said, is “like night and day.”
Leominster resident Tim Salafia, 18, is another MyTurn success story.
He dropped out of high school last year, and enrolled in the MyTurn program in Spring 2015. By June, he had earned his HiSET, and he currently has an internship at the Boys and Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster.
“The program helped me understand what field I want to go into,” Salafia said. “It definitely helped me get out of the little rut I was in.”
The Fitchburg location of MyTurn Inc. is currently helping 15 students, including Salafia and Akins, succeed professionally and academically.
The organization as a whole has existed since 1984, and helps young people between 14 and 24 earn high school diplomas and enter the workforce in seven locations around Massachusetts and New Hampshire. A recent increase in funding under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act has enabled the Fitchburg program to offer even more opportunities to students, said Fitchburg Site Manager Nicole Conroy.
“The program is focused on working with students who have certain barriers, helping them select a career path, get on-the-job training, get some credentials in their chosen career,” Conroy said, “so they can enter the workforce full-time and make livable wages.”
Any students who are pregnant or parenting, homeless, low-income, affiliated with a group home, or on probation are eligible for MyTurn, she said.
The one-year program takes 25 students per year, and works with each student to develop an individual service plan.
Students can take high school equivalency courses at the center to earn their HiSET, as well as take financial literacy courses, attend workshops that help their interviewing skills, tour local businesses and colleges, and get certified online in occupational training like OSHA or ServSafe.
The nonprofit program also enables students to work at paid internships.
The most popular industries among their students right now, Conroy said, are manufacturing, health care, human services, automotive, and business.
Because Salafia is interested in human services, MyTurn helped him get an internship at the Boys and Girls Club, where he has been working with 8- to 12-year-olds for the past two months.
He has wanted to be a child psychologist “for as long as I can remember,” Salafia said.
“I’ve had a rough childhood and I know what it’s like to not have help when you need it,” he said, “so I just want to help other kids as much as I can.”
Once he finishes the MyTurn program, Salafia plans to continue with school and eventually earn a higher education degree in psychology.
For Akins, college is “a possibility,” but he is more focused on entering the workforce.
Conroy said Akins works extra hours at A & P every week so he can learn as much as possible about automotive maintenance and repair. Because he is only 16, Akins said he would not have been able to get an internship like the one he has now without MyTurn.
The program has been very helpful to him, in multiple ways.
“I don’t understand why more people don’t do it,” he said.
Salafia agreed that many students who struggle in traditional public schools, or have dropped out, would greatly benefit from enrolling in MyTurn.
“They’re very helpful, very patient,” he said. “It’s been the best educational experience I’ve ever had.”