This summer teens around the mid-Hudson Valley are getting a glimpse of the working world.
As local businesses, restaurants and retail shops reopened for the summer, teens have been punching the clock. Beginning their journeys toward future goals and careers, many local teens are learning the elements of leadership while gaining experience in the professional life.
Among them is Avantae Stewart, 14, who began working at the Cream Boutique in the city of Newburgh at the beginning of July. In the seventh grade, he was invited to join the National Junior Honors Society but was not able to finish the process because of COVID-19.
Work at the Cream Boutique was just another way for Avantae to spend his time and take on a learning opportunity.
“I have nothing better to do. This was a great way to gain experience and have money in my pocket,” said Avantae. “I look forward to meeting new people… and they have nice clothes and amazing stuff here.”
The clothing boutique has been in Newburgh for five years and previously existed as two separate stores — a vintage shop and a boutique. When COVID-19 began, boutique owner Amal Ishak consolidated both shops into one. Now young adults work at the boutique, keeping a youthful energy throughout the store.
“I wanted to give them (teen employees) the opportunity to be a part of a small business that’s impacting where we live. I have teens throughout the year. Two of my girls are going away for college,” said Ishak.
In the fall, Avantae will be attending Newburgh Free Academy West High School.
The Pew Research Center reported 35% of teens employed last summer were working in the food industry and 24% of teens were in the retail industry. Small businesses like Cream Boutique offer teens the opportunity to see the behind-the-scenes work of the small business and retail industry.
Working at an ice cream shop is a popular summer job for teens.
Ryan DiCostanzo, 19, has been working at the Bellvale Farms Creamery since he was a freshman at Warwick Valley High School. His sister also worked at the creamery when she was a teen, which encouraged him to seek work there himself.
Bellvale Farms Creamery highlights teen employment each summer. Over 30 young adults – who range in age from 14-25 – work for the family-owned ice cream shop, from April to October.
“Scooping ice cream always sounded fun to me. You work with a bunch of people your own age whether they are from the same school as you or go to Monroe,” said DiCostanzo.
DiCostanzo has worked at Bellvale Creamery for more than five seasons, learning customer service skills and gaining experience in teamwork. Now DiCostanzo is a sophomore attending SUNY Cortland, where he was on the dean’s list for the fall and spring semesters.
“One of the things I really learned was patience. I think this goes with any food industry job where you are dealing with a bunch of people at a really large rate. Having patience and knowing what you’re good at and knowing how you’re good at it is definitely a big factor,” DiCostanzo said.
According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, 5.3 million teens were employed by May. In New York by that time, according to the state Department of Labor, unemployment in Orange County was at 4.7%, Rockland County at 4.3%, and Westchester County at 4.8%.
Orange-Rockland-Westchester is the second-fastest-growing labor market in the state at 11.1%, the Department of Labor said.
In Orange County, officials have been working since the start of the pandemic to help teens find their place in the workforce.
Last summer, city of Newburgh Mayor Torrance Harvey partnered with the director of the Boys & Girls Club of Newburgh, Kevin White, to implement summer youth initiatives for teens ages 14 to 19 and young adults ages 20 to 25.
“To address the economic crisis, I felt like young people had a rough year last year with school being shut down and kids learning remotely, and they needed money,” Harvey said. “Kevin White and I talked, and we were able to find a private donor that was able to put up half a million of his own money. We were able to get 50 adult high school and college students to work.”
The initiative also extended into the Orange County Youth Bureau to introduce more jobs for teens and young adults. These adults are working throughout the city of Newburgh and Orange County. The summer initiatives did not end there.
This summer, Harvey was able to help get approximately 60 young adults employed throughout the city of Newburgh. Harvey is also working on a pilot program to help employ young teens and adults.
One initiative from the pilot program is the Newburgh Street Sweeper program that trains and employs young adults and those who were formerly incarcerated to sweep the city streets. The program employs 10 to 12 young adults through the summer and winter.
The Orange County Youth Bureau offers professional development programs and high school and college internships. Young adults are given the opportunity to work a five- to six-week job, at camps, in maintenance and even in county offices.
Jasmeen Kaur,18, works at the Orange County Youth Bureau office. A Middletown High School graduate, she applied to the Summer Youth Employment Program. Kaur started working at the Bureau office at the beginning of July, entering data for the staff.
“I love my job. I really enjoy my time working here,” Kaur said. “What I enjoy the most is I gain new experience every single day. Now I know what it is like working with adults. At first, I used to think working with adults was scary and ‘I can’t do it.’ I really wanted to get this opportunity to see how it really is. Nothing is hard if you have the passion to work honestly and in a responsible manner.”
Kaur graduated as the salutatorian for the Middletown High School class of 2021. She will be attending college in the fall on the pre-med track with a minor in women’s studies.
“This is one of the guideposts that will lead me toward my goals. It instills in me all the leadership and communication skills with adults,” said Kaur.