“I believe the Vocational Skills Program is all about teaching youth the basics of working, while helping them develop confidence in themselves and their abilities.”
That statement comes from Equine Program Manager, Rebecca Buchholz, another one of our staff who have Coyote Hill youth under their employ this summer. Rebecca continues:
I look at the work opportunity at Overton Arena as a teaching opportunity for me. I vary the amount of hours they work according to their age and abilities. I want them to walk away with a positive outlook on the working world, and not burn them out over the summer (both figuratively and literally…it can get hot out there!)
Not all of my workers are old enough to be in the Vocational Skills Program, yet they’ve shown a desire to do some chores in the arena, so we let them fill out our job application. I LOVE reading the applications, they are way too cute! One little boy wrote that he ‘wanted to work to learn that money is hard to get.’ One girl said she wanted to join the airforce out of high school. I asked her why, and she said it was because her grandmother and her aunt both joined the airforce and she wanted to keep on the family tradition. I love that.
My two youngest workers are are only 6 and 7 years old. The 6 year old comes once a week, doing age-appropriate tasks such as sweeping rooms, cleaning stalls, etc. The 7 year old worked for me last year and was one of my hardest workers, with an amazing attitude! I talked it over with his Home Parents and we felt he could handle coming twice a week for an hour. For these and other elementary age workers, it’s mostly about learning that doing your chores allows you to achieve/acquire things that you want.
For the older ones, I step it up. They’re expected to work more and use thinking skills with their jobs. They’re taught to follow written and verbal directions, be self-starters, work with a team and independently, work off of a “to-do” list, prioritize work projects, develop time management skills, etc. It becomes more about giving them the thinking skills to do well in the workplace. When they ask for help, I’m likely to tell them, “See if you can figure it out. I have my own work to do.” That’s hard for me, but they need to start relying on their own skills. These youth are often capable of much more than they think they are, so it’s awesome to see them finish their summer employment with so much more confidence in themselves and what they can do! Most of these kids put in 10-15 hours a week.
For the oldest and those in our Vocational Skills Program, I also take into consideration the reality of working an outside job. They will likely be going into transitional living right out of high school, when they age out of the foster system. At that point, they will NEED to work to pay for car insurance, food, etc. Foster kids are often pushed into the adult world sooner because they don’t have that parental shelter system. If they don’t have basic job skills like filling out a timesheet, knowing how to pick-up extra shifts or swap shifts, on top of having some general work skills and a work ethic, their ability to be successful greatly diminishes. Older employees are scheduled to work about 20 hours per week in the summer. My high school employee is doing amazing at the barn. She is growing so much in her work skills and confidence. I love having her there.
My employees learn a bit of everything! We clean the arena, train horses, work on fun projects like refurbishing items, turning part of my arena office into a lounge for games, horse movies, and relaxation times on bad weather days. We’ve been taking inventory of our equipment and deciding which items we are and are not using. We also make it a practice to ask other staff if they need things. Coyote Hill, like most places of employment, is a team effort and sometimes that means helping in areas where you didn’t plan on helping.
My favorite moments are when the kids show maturity and responsibility. When a child sees I am busy and sweeps a room while waiting, or realizes a work conflict ahead of time and calls me to notify me, I get so proud of them!
I wish I could keep all of the kids under the safe, Coyote Hill umbrella, but I can’t. What I can do, is love them, care for them, and prepare them during this time God has given them to me. I can meet these kids where they are and train them to become good workers, giving them tools they’ll need to take care of themselves and be self-sufficient when they move on. By giving them summer jobs and teaching them to work, we are doing what we can to love them beyond the borders of Coyote Hill.