Tormohlen: Teaching career skills to local children | AspenTimes.com

Tormohlen: Teaching career skills to local children

Tamara Tormohlen
Giving Thought

Aspen Community Foundation, Board Photo, Mar. 13, 2014

Recently, we've devoted this column to individuals working to effect positive change in the Aspen-to-Parachute region. This week we're speaking with Kirsten McDaniel, who runs YouthEntity, a Carbondale-based nonprofit that helps students in grades two through 12 develop personal financial literacy and other career skills through a variety of classroom and experiential-education programs.

Aspen Community Foundation: Please give a short description of YouthEntity, the niche it fills and why you created it.

Kirsten McDaniel: Our goal is that each youth graduates from high school ready for job, career and life. Our largest program is personal financial literacy for students in fifth, eighth and high school grades. We also offer entrepreneurship training through Lemonade Day, career development for the hospitality industry through YouthChefs and ProStart, and opportunities in design and journalism. Our "My Career, My Life" program brings internships to sixth- through eighth-graders in many different fields.

I don't have kids, but I do remember a lot about how I felt as a kid — that people didn't understand me, I wasn't engaged in sports and I wasn't one of the super-popular kids. I also had no idea what the future could hold for me. With YouthEntity, I wanted to create opportunities for kids to work with and learn from adults from different industries to help them find a career path they're excited about well before their high school graduation.

ACF: What age groups do you work with, and how do students access the program?

KM: Kids in grades two through eight can access our programs through their school because the programs are held during the regular school day. The programs for older kids are all after school, but those kids do earn high school credits that go toward their graduation requirement.

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ACF: The programs must vary according to age group.

KM: Yes. For instance, Lemonade Day is really business entrepreneurship for the young kids. It's learning how to start up and run a business, using the lemonade stand as a model.

When the kids get a little older, we have a big presence through our "I Am Financial Knowledge" workshops. We come into a school and enroll the entire fifth and eighth grades. There's eight hours of instruction and some games and activities. At the end, we give a test with 30 questions, and for each question they get right, they earn 50 cents.

Between the various grades, the financial workshops reach 1,750 kids from Garfield, Eagle, Summit and Mesa counties. The biggest nut is the Roaring Fork Valley.

In middle school, we offer "My Career, My Life," where kids take a personality assessment that tells them whether they're artistic or investigative or realistic, for example. With that code, they can look at career clusters we've created and explore their interests. Then we hold a career expo at the school, bring in professionals and offer six- to eight-week internships where kids learn about careers through doing.

For high schoolers, we also offer after-school programs, which are listed in their course catalog. One of those is ProStart, which can amount to 20 credits per year. It's a national program that teaches them how to cook, but it's also about the business aspect — entrepreneurship, marketing, etc.

ACF: How do you raise the money you need?

KM: In addition to grants, community support through individual donations and business sponsorships is key. Our largest fundraiser is the annual Pig Roast at the Aspen Glen Club on June 25. This is a great way to learn about YouthEntity, our kids and our supporters. Tickets may be purchased at http://www.youthentitypigroast.org.

We have two full-time employees and one half-time person. We have 13 paid facilitators and a whole bunch of volunteers. Our budget is just under $400,000, which is relatively small considering that we're reaching more than 2,000 kids per year.

ACF: How do you measure whether you're succeeding?

KM: We measure in many ways, depending on the program. For example, our "cost to serve" is basically how much we spend on each student to deliver that program. Are we giving our donors a good return on their money? Also, how many students are we reaching? Are we growing because of the quality of our programs, or were we able to expand into a different area? It's important to show growth.

There are also tests and culminating presentations at the end of some programs, where the kids receive real-world feedback from customers, community or industry members about their work. We lead them out of their comfort zone and show them that with hard work they can exceed their own expectations.

Tamara Tormohlen is executive director of the Aspen Community Foundation.

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