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Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Giving Youth A Sense of Value: Job Training at Virginia Woof Dog Daycare
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David Stone is the Director of Virginia Woof Dog Daycare, an innovative job-training project for youth run by Outside In, a social service agency serving youth and low-income adults who are homeless in Portland, OR. Youths receive on-the-job training in a wide range of workplace skills at the dog daycare, owned and operated by Outside In. The HRC’s Wendy Grace Evans recently talked with David to learn more about the successes and challenges of this unique job-training program.
Q: Tell me about the Virginia Woof job-training program.

A: We teach basic office skills like data entry and filing, customer service, interpersonal skills, working with others, taking supervision, finding solutions to problems, and working with dogs for canine readiness. The job training is broken into ten weeks, and includes an evaluation period.

Q: How do you recruit young people?

A : There is a screening process that happens before the job-training program with help from the Outside In Employment Resource Center. We recruit youth through that program, where they first receive job readiness training. Youth finish the job readiness training in two-weeks. We evaluate whether or not they are planning to stay in town and if they are planning to make any life changes. I meet with the case managers and then there is a probationary period of two weeks.

Q: When young people become interns at Virginia Woof, what are their responsibilities?

A: They are expected to be leaders and to rise to a level independence. Part of their agreement with Outside In’s Employment Resource Center is to maintain contact with staff and to work on their employment and education goals. At Virginia Woof, all youth are treated as full staff members with full responsibilities.

Q: What advice do you have for other programs looking to start their own workforce development training programs for youth?

A: My best advice is to ask youth what they want. You have to find something that youth want to do, with really clear guidelines on how it will benefit them. Virginia Woof gives our youth the sense that they are really valued. They need to be here because there is a living creature that depends on them and there are people here who care about their futures. You have to be able to listen to youth about what they want. At Outside In, we are very oriented to our young people.
Q: What are some of the challenges you have faced?

A: We have had a high staff turnover and trouble with developing a strong youth team. We hired a professional consultant to help us.  With him, we developed concepts that were youth friendly, to create policies and procedures, and to communicate clear expectations. We struggled in the beginning, but we are really good at these things now.

Q: Do you have any recent success stories you would like to share about young people engaged in the program?

A: Absolutely! I was recently contacted by a youth we served a year ago. She completed our program and moved on to an internship at another agency, and then was promoted to be a manager.  She says the skills she learned at Virginia Woof enabled her to get that job. At that time, she was going through a transgender transition and we helped her move through that period. She feels that our support during that period of her life gave her the confidence to move on and helped get her hired by another company.

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