A popular phrase with our teens is, keep it real. Teens like our mentors (trained, caring adults) because they keep it real, which means they talk about life in the real world, not life as it should be or life as we want it to be. It can also be slang for simply having fun, “we are keeping it real.” We sometimes hear kids say, “Why do I have to do algebra? It has nothing to do with the real world.” Or I hate literature class, it doesn’t relate to the real world. At the Boys & Girls Club of McAllen, we find that youth are highly interested in how the real world works. We use this interest to our advantage and theirs as we help prepare youth and teens for bright futures.

Othal E. Brand Unit Director Jessica Soliz is keeping it real with our teens ages 13 to 17 with a new program called Junior Staff. Teens learn soft skills such a punctuality, public service skills, telephone etiquette, professional dress and presentation of self in public speaking. Teens use Boys & Girls Club of America curricula called Career Launch which is conducted online.

Junior Staff: Cultivating

Tomorrow’s Club Professionals Today

Junior Staff is a program that assists Club members ages 13 to 18 explore a career in youth or human services, particularly Boys & Girls Club work. Young people prepare for future roles as human services professionals by participating in career development activities, discovering the importance of community service, building customer service skills and completing a Club apprenticeship. Funded by AT&T.

CareerLaunch is a career exploration and mentoring program for teens ages 13-18. This program includes the CareerLaunch Web site that allows teens to take an interest survey, explore careers, identify training or college requirements, seek out financial aid and play skills-building games. There’s also an easy-to-use Career Exploration Quick Reference Guide with a broad range of career planning and job skills activities that Club staff or volunteers can use with teens. The CareerLaunch Portfolio contains a Teen Tips booklet with helpful interviewing and on-the-spot job tips. Funded by Gap Foundation.

During one of their junior staff meetings I overheard, Jessica discussing the difference between immediate goals, short term goals and long term goals. The teens were asked to write out all three types of their goals. Jessica collected them and promised to email them during the school year to see if they have made progress. The teens took the session very seriously. Some named career path goals like investigating veterinary schools or working in a vet clinic next summer. Others got very practical and committed to completing daily algebra homework when they go back to school. Still others committed to reading two books over the summer or being on time to their junior staff apprenticeships.

As Executive Director I was impressed with the commitment level they maintained throughout the summer regarding their junior staff internships. What a joy to see young men and women keep it real by giving to others and growing real professional skills. I wonder how often youth are waiting for adults to take them seriously, invest in their success and give them the opportunities to succeed. I wonder if we sell the youth and teens in our lives short. Their mentor, Jessica did not sell them short; she held high expectations for them and our teens rose to the occasion by meeting or surpassing our expectations.

Our junior staff club members will be recognized the last week of summer camp for completing more than 100 hours of community service at the club working with younger members. In anticipation of wrapping up their apprenticeships, junior staff celebrated their successes during a sleep over last weekend at the club.

Thank you teens for your service. Thanks to: Othal E. Brand Center Junior Staff (Unit Director, Jessica Soliz); Vanessa Robles - President (future veterinarian); Daisy Barraza - Vice President (future flight attendant or pilot); Lilly Navarro - Secretary (future nurse); Kerstin Ortiz - Treasurer (future veterinarian); Christopher Uvalle (future military equipment designer/ engineer); Ricky Perera (future pilot); Stephanie Gomez (future nurse); Grace Reagan (future veterinarian); Paola Salgado (future government agent); Jackie Diaz (future doctor/dentist); Rhiannon Bormann-Salazar (future forensic scientist); Abigail Mata (future veterinarian); Jorge Gonzalez and Luis Valencia.

Also, Glen E. and Rita K. Roney Center Junior Staff (Unit Director, Denise McCollum), Samantha Perez, Trina Esperante, Arlette Guerrero, Hilary Garcia, Rodolfo Siller, Andrew Cuellar and Adrian Cuellar

And thank you Jessica and Denise for making a difference!

Laura Reagan-Porras, MS is a sociologist that serves as the Chief Professional Officer of the Boys & Girls Club of McAllen. She can be reached for comments or questions at lreagan_porras@bgcmcallen.org or 956-682-5791.