Leo Orzuna entered Westhab’s Skills for Life program like any teenager would—unsure of what he was getting into and skeptical that it would be worth his time. After two years in the program, Leo grew into a leader and mentor for the other youth. “Leo has grown and matured while participating in various workshops provided,” says Skills for Life counselor Stephanie Williams. “As new teens came into the program, he presented himself as a mentor, teaching the ropes and helping with adjustment. In this time, the young man who did not have defined aspirations developed thoughts on life goals, including a career path.”
For more than 10 years (since 2003), the intensive, year-round, privately-funded Skills for Life program has been a critical component in Westhab’s success in helping at-risk teens recognize and fulfill their potential. Skills for Life provides powerful opportunities for youth at our Coachman Family Center and in our Dayspring Youth Program to develop their employment, academic, and leadership skills through a combination of targeted supportive activities such as academic tutoring, college preparation, job readiness training, and real-life work experience in the form of paid internships.
Westhab’s Skills for Life program serves youth who are at risk of becoming disconnected from school and engaging in destructive behavior. The schools that these young people attend are often underfunded and under-resourced, increasing the need for outside academic support and enrichment activities. Most of our Skills for Life participants exhibit academic deficits, including diagnosed learning disabilities, substandard reading levels, and below grade-level performance. By providing youth with targeted support activites, Skills for Life offers a pathway to success.
After participating in the Skills for Life program, Leo Orzuna wrote a reflection. In his own words, this was Leo’s experience:
“When I first walked into the recreation room at the Coachman Family Center (the rec.), I was very shy and didn’t really talk to anyone. It took me a good month to get a little bit comfortable. As time went on, I became good friends with some of the teens there. This program has helped me in that way. I was given an opportunity to work in the Skills for Life program along with other teens. It was my first job, and I’m really grateful to this day. When I was working there a few months ago, there were some new teens, and I took the initiative, and I think I helped make the experience for some of the first-time teens easier and more enjoyable. I learned this in one of the workshops called R.E.A.D.I. I really enjoyed the workshops because they made me grow as a person. These workshops include financial literacy, and college and job readiness. It made me a more responsible person, and I’m more aware of my surroundings. I’m now 16, almost 17, and can take these skills and apply them to my life. I’m currently looking for a job, and I thank Ms. Stephanie and the staff at the rec. because they guided me through the program. I had a really great time there and would recommend it to other teens.”
Leo Orzuna is a shining example of the potential of the Skills for Life program—and similar programs that invest in our youth—to alter a young person’s outlook on life and propel them toward a future filled with opportunity. We are currently expanding this program to provide targeted support and skills training to our youth who want to pursue a path other than college. Young people will have the opportunity to receive training and certification in the fields of hospitality, security, healthcare, and retail. They’ll be supported throughout their training and job search by an employment specialist. When you support Westhab, you’re supporting programs like Skills for Life and teens like Leo Orzuna. You’re influencing their futures in the best possible way, and as a result, truly making the world a better place.