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Grundy County Workforce Services internship program helps transitional youth

MORRIS – The job market is not always kind to youth looking for employment.

Nearly 3 million youth age 16 to 24 were unemployed in the U.S. as of June, which equates to a 13.3 percent unemployment rate, according to data from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics.

But in Grundy County, unemployed youth have a friend in Grundy County Workforce Services, which provides internships and job training to local youth struggling to find jobs.

Through the Transitional Young Adults program, disadvantaged youth are offered paid internships with local businesses. Additionally, Program Coordinator and Youth Services Director Angie Ahng works with the young adults to help them establish and reach their professional goals.

“Disadvantaged usually translates to low-income or some type of barrier to employment, which could be a wide array of things,” Ahng said. “There are a lot of youth who have just fallen through the cracks. Whether it’s they had to drop out of high school or were forced out by something like a teen pregnancy. Or maybe they had a behavioral disorder – there are just so many reasons.”

At the program’s inception eight years ago, the workforce services board recognized a need in Grundy County to help disadvantaged youth and received federal grant money for the TYA internship program.

With the grant money, Ahng is able to pay the wages for each intern so participating businesses have no payroll costs for taking on the intern.

“The Grundy County Workforce program has helped me tremendously,” Morris resident Nick Reilly, 20, said. “[After] months of being unemployed and then to have found a program that helped me lay a path for my career.” 

Reilly works as a maintenance technician for the Grundy County Housing Authority, which he obtained through the internship program. 

The interns are paid to work 28 hours a week and are paid minimum wage.

“The businesses simply provide the opportunity and the supervision,” Ahng said. “It’s a pretty good opportunity for both the intern and the business.”

Ahng currently is working with 35 youth within Grundy County, but about one in five of her students exits the program after they are offered full-time positions, Ahng said.

One such student is Tricia Kiefling, a 21-year-old Morris resident who was recently hired full time at Rezin Orthopedics to work in medical records after beginning the TYA internship program this January.

Before joining, Kiefling worked an unsteady job that had late-night hours and was not always consistent. The job also didn’t accommodate her class schedule, so keeping up with school became extremely difficult.

Her ultimate goal is to become a paramedic.

“I really like it so far. I work 8 to 5 so I know what my schedule is, and I know what my income is. It’s nice to have something reliable,” Kiefling said.

Kiefling is not the first intern who has worked at Rezin, which has taken in several interns in the past.

“It’s worked out great. The overall quality of interns that Angie has been able to send us has been great. They’ve worked out well,” Rezin Orthopedics Administrator Mike Topielec said. “From an employer perspective, it’s nice to bring on an intern and see what they can do, without necessarily hiring them right out of the gate.”

Kiefling represents what Ahng wants for all of her interns – reliable jobs and self-sufficiency.

“The ultimate goal is to help these youth get to a place where they can support themselves and their families, or whoever may depend on them,” Ahng said. “To have them enter the workforce and retain a job, that’s what we want and what the need.”

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