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Voyage gives young people a strong start in the workforce

This Wilmington summer program trains, mentors and places local students to set them on the path to success

The Northside of downtown Wilmington, NC has faced some tough times, including high rates of youth violence compounded by persistent poverty. To combat both, Voyage, a nonprofit that was founded in 2008 as the Blue Ribbon Commission on the Prevention of Youth Violence, offers a summer training, internship and employment program to local high school students. Over eight weeks, roughly 60 teens from ages 14 to 19 receive a combination of life and job skills training, as well as on-the-job experience. The program is designed to start and keep students on a career path by surrounding them with counselors and mentors.

Summer students receive seven weeks of paid work experience, plus mentorship and training. Job coaches monitor the progress of each participant at their worksite and provide ongoing support. This is supplemented by educational workshops that take a closer look at job skills requirements, career opportunities and resume development. All of this is topped off by guest speakers and group mentoring. “It's about more than simply providing jobs; the program focuses on developing students into successful individuals and young professionals, helping them build social capital early on,” says Voyage’s Executive Director Genna Wirth.

The experience has certainly been life-altering for many of the young people involved. Wirth notes, “We found that the vast majority of former participants either went on to higher education or started a career in their chosen field directly after graduating high school.” The program also helps students forge connections that could give them a leg up in their careers.

To fund the initiative, Voyage partners with other nonprofits like StepUp Wilmington, the City of Wilmington and businesses from the community. Through grants, Bank of America supports Voyage’s job skills boot camp and hands-on financial literacy training, both of which are pillars of the bank’s $1.25 billion, five-year commitment to advance racial equality and economic opportunity.