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Workforce youth program puts struggling youth on track

Published: Friday, June 13, 2014 6:01 p.m. CDT • Updated: Saturday, June 14, 2014 2:19 p.m. CDT
(Sarah Nader –
Jenny Duron, 21, of Woodstock poses for a portrait while working at the Algonquin/Lake in the Hills Chamber of Commerce in Lake in the Hills. Duron was hired full-time at the Algonquin-Lake in the Hills Chamber of Commerce after participating in the McHenry County Workforce Network's Youth Program.
(Sarah Nader –
Jenny Duron (left) of Woodstock trains intern, Ethan Richter, 21, of Marengo, while working at the Algonquin/Lake in the Hills Chamber of Commerce.

Jenny Duron had low expectations when she walked through the doors of the McHenry County Workforce Network back in 2011.

But, with the baby boy growing inside her forcing the issue of a full-time job, the young Woodstock woman took out an application to the network’s youth program. Three years later and now full-time employed, it’s a decision she’s thankful she made.

“There’s so much more that you don’t learn in school that they teach,” said Duron, 21.

Funded federally through the Workforce Investment Act, the Workforce Network Youth Program provides guidance and internship opportunities to 14- to 21-year-olds. Some who join the program are still in school and looking for part-time work. Others seek full-time, post-high school starter jobs.

While teen employment needs reach every demographic – the teen employment rate was at just 27 percent in 2012 compared with 37 percent in 2006, according to a report by the Chicago Alternative Schools Network released earlier this year – the workforce network’s grant money is for low-income youth facing a significant barrier to employment.

“It could be a disability, [being a] teen parent, court involvement, [being a] foster child,” said Barbara Billimack, the network’s lead youth career adviser. “Basically, somebody who has struggled and could use some guidance to secure employment.”

The program places teens in a variety of fields, from retail to clerical to nonprofit. Students of the program spend three weeks at the Workforce Network’s office, taking seminars to improve their job-search skills. They tweak their résumés, fill out applications and go through mock interviews.

Then, each student has the chance to hold a six-week paid internship. Some internships lead directly to employment. For others, it takes longer. But the program doesn’t drop students who aren’t immediately placed in jobs.

“They have not completed our program until they find a job or decide to continue their education,” Billimack said.

For Caleb Pasalic of Marengo, a job offer came quickly. The 19-year-old enrolled in the youth program’s manufacturing course in the fall.

Pasalic went through a three-week boot camp to prepare. He interviewed with several manufacturers and was placed with Novation Industries, a McHenry-based plastics manufacturer.

“Ultimately, I was offered a position,” he said. “So it was, overall, a great experience.”

Pasalic instead decided to take a job in sales at a car dealership in Rockford, which will give him the chance to work more closely with people. But he credits his time with the youth program and Novation for teaching him vital skills.

“I would definitely recommend it, without a doubt,” he said. “It got me through a really tough time in my life, and they were always there for me and always working with me.”

Duron similarly speaks highly of her time with the workforce network.

In August, she was placed in an internship with the Algonquin/Lake in the Hills Chamber of Commerce. The business organization offered her a full-time job in January, which Duron accepted.

She also has been taking classes at McHenry County College and plans to transfer to Judson University for an associate degree in administrative management.

“I’m so grateful that I was able to come across this program and be a part of it,” Duron said.

For information about the McHenry County Workforce Network, visit

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