On Friday, July 31, after more than two months and hundreds of hours spent beautifying parks across the Omaha-Metro area, 150 teens joined the hundreds of other teens and young adults as alumni of UNO’s SummerWorks Omaha Employment Academy.
At a special luncheon held at the Scott Conference Center on UNO’s Pacific Campus, the participants and organizers of the SummerWorks program, which is now in its fifth year, celebrated another successful year alongside special guests, including Chancellor John Christensen and Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert.
The mantra “You Can’t Outwork Us” was a common theme shared by members of the program, highlighting the mission of SummerWorks to provide high school students opportunities to serve the community while gaining valuable work experience.
“This is essentially a small business,” said SummerWorks Director Kathe Oleson Lyons said. “All of our participants, all of our team leaders, all of the people that work with SummerWorks are official University of Nebraska employees for the summer.”
As SummerWorks Oleson Lyons explained at the luncheon, not only are SummerWorks participants employed by UNO to help the city through park clean up efforts, but the teens also learn financial literacy skills, interviewing skills, receive practice writing resumes, and also receive CPR and OSHA training.
In fact, a job fair was hosted for SummerWorks participants in July with more than 20 organizations coming to UNO to meet with the teens, review their resumes and provide guidance on job searches once they complete the program.
The effort proved successful for at least one participant, who – it was announced at the luncheon – was recently hired by one of the organizations participating in the job fair.
If that wasn’t already impressive, those who are a part of SummerWorks also earn an elective credit through the Omaha Public Schools system and receive credit towards a degree at Metropolitan Community College after they graduate.
While the luncheon did celebrate the skills and experiences gained by the participants, it was also a chance for those who were not a part of the program to learn more about the participants.
Awards and scholarships were given out to participants who were recognized for their work ethic, teamwork, attendance and improvements over the course of the program.
Additionally, guests were shown a video highlighting a project where each of the participants chose one word to describe them. Words like “Athletic” and “Funny” were not nearly as common as words like “Driven,” “Courageous,” and “Ambitious.”
“Ambitious, to me, is working hard to get the job done,” explained a voiceover from one of the participants. “I live my life style through ambition. Ambition, in relation to me, is that I grew up with that state of mind – to never give up trying and keep pushing, no matter what.”
Over the past five years, participants in the SummerWorks program have contributed more than 40,000 of hours of service to the Omaha-Metro area and have supported the city through preparing sandbags for local floods, painting a mural at Hanscom Park and building homes for the box turtle population at Fontenelle Forest.
Not surprisingly, many of the participants from the past five years have returned as team leaders or mentors – even after graduating from high school and continuing on to college.
"It is so important to have alumni of this program on hand to give guidance to our new participants," Oleson Lyons said at the start of this year’s SummerWorks program. "It is one thing to hear about the importance of the work they will be doing - especially on days where it may seem harder than others - but to hear it from those who have done it before will help make that connection on an entirely new level."
As the program continues to grow and accumulate more alumni – the number now stands at 700 – the impact the teens will have on their peers and the community will continue to grow exponentially.
Plus, at least one lasting effort from this year’s session will continue to live on for years – and likely decades: a mural that the participants helped paint at Omaha’s Sherman Community Center in North Omaha.
The finishing touches on the mural, which depicts a flowering pot providing life to abstractly-designed multicolor vines, are being made by the mural’s designer, Kristin Pluhacek, A formal unveiling of the mural is scheduled to take place on Tuesday, Aug. 11.
More information about the SummerWorks program can be found at the SummerWorks website.
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