Internship Program Builds Bridges to Success

Project Oz – Learning and Leading Program

Summer days were anything but lazy for Bloomington-Normal high school students participating in Project Oz’s Learning & Leading program. This year, 33 students completed the 8 week paid internship program, with placements at State Farm, Country Financial, Growmark, and the Illinois Farm Bureau. The program helps bridge the opportunity gap for low-income students and students from at-risk environments by empowering them with the skills, training, and work experience they need to succeed in college and a professional career.

In addition to the work they do in their assigned area, students also participate in numerous educational and service opportunities over the summer. Young people learn about the importance of “soft skills” needed for success in the workplace, such as showing up for work on time, dressing appropriately, managing stress, resolving conflicts with bosses and coworkers, communicating with others, and working as part of a team. Program components include:

• Job preparation skills, such as how to create a resume, interview for a position
• Participation in Toastmasters to gain confidence in public speaking
• Weekly group service projects to build connections to the group and their community
• Training in financial literacy, such as how to set up a bank account, budgeting and saving money
• One-on-one mentoring to focus on developing personal skills, career goals, and planning for the future

The impact of Learning & Leading continues well beyond the summer. Students return to school with a new sense of what they can accomplish and the many options available to them for the future. Mentors and supervisors often stay in touch with youth after the program, and several current mentors are also graduates of the program. One former participant described the impact of the program on her in this way:

“You truly did change my life for the better and let me have a shot at life on my own and gave me a whole new start to gain not only experience but also learn how the real world works and gave me that extra push. It is truly astonishing how many lives you have changed with the Summer Jobs program you have put together.”

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