State College Young Professionals mentoring program helps put people to work

bmilazzo@centredaily.comNovember 12, 2013 

Profess1

Lindsay Wirtz, left, Nikki Shariat and Wendy Vinhage are members of the State College Young Professionals mentoring program. The mentors partner with members of the community to teach them professional skills.

NABIL K. MARK — CDT photo Buy Photo

— Three people from Housing Transitions Inc. are one step closer to entering the workforce, thanks to a new program started by State College Young Professionals.

The group created a mentoring program to enhance professional skills for those looking for meaningful employment. It was initiated over the summer, and allows an SCYP mentor to teach key skills to individuals looking for work. The four-step program runs four weeks, said Nikki Shariat,outreach director for the group.

Shariat described the program as a Big Brothers Big Sisters-type of program, but for adults.

“When you feel like you changed someone for the better, it’s the most amazing feeling,” Shariat said.

The program targets single parents with limited educational and work experience, she said. However, the group will work with anyone, she added.

State College Young Professionals is an organization that works with the community and other nonprofit organizations in the area, finding ways for community members to network, volunteer and socialize. Members volunteer with and raise money for other organizations through the club’s outreach department.

SCYP has an eight-member board and 130 members total. The organization was started about a decade ago, but slowed down for a few years and has come back with a stronger presence, Shariat, 32, said.

“We got to a point where we are doing a lot for the community and working with large groups, but we were missing out on how to help individuals,” Shariat said. “We wanted to target an issue that goes beyond donating and volunteering with other groups.”

The mentor program held a trial run last month and included Shariat and two other board members, Wendy Vinhage and Lindsay Wirtz, who helped three clients from Housing Transitions.

Over the summer, Shariat approached Housing Transitions with the idea for the mentor program, indicating that SCYP was looking for a way to make a unique contribution to the community and “one that really drew on the strengths of its members,” said Susanna Paul, development and community relations coordinator at Housing Transitions.

“We immediately loved the idea, as our mission is to help Centre County residents achieve a more independent and stable lifestyle,” Paul said. “Employment security and job advancement play a large role in helping an individual achieve and maintain self-sufficiency, and the SCYP mentors program is a wonderful complement to the work our case managers do with Housing Transitions clients on a daily basis.”

Colby Woodring, housing case manager at Housing Transitions, said clients were picked for the program based on who they thought would enjoy it, who would want to participate and who would follow through long after the mentoring program was done.

Each week, a mentor targeted a different skills set in a one-on-one, 45-minute session covering resume-building, filling out an application, writing a proper cover letter and working on interview skills.

“One client said he felt he benefited from it, said it was great to have for his resume, and said ‘the more he learns, the better,’ ” Woodring said. “One client that suffers from depression said that she felt like she had accomplished something when she received the certificate.”

Each individual who finished the program received a certificate of completion through SCYP.

In the partnership between SCYP and Housing Transitions, the American Red Cross CentreCommunities Chapter is also in the process of donating free CPR classes for the three mentees, Shariat said.

“This was the pilot program, to see if it was feasible and work on ways to work out the kinks for the future of the program,” Shariat said.

With a positive response, the program will continue — this time with the Youth Service Bureau to help develop professional skills with bureau members and families. Shariat said the goal is to have 10 clients working with 10 mentors.

“I think now that we’re working to help enhance individuals’ skills so they can be an even larger asset to the community, we’re doing our part in helping and living up to an improved mission,” Shariat said.

Britney Milazzo can be reached at 231-4648. Follow her on Twitter @ M11azzo.

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