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TeenWorks empowers at-risk youth with developing post-high school skills

The group offers a six-week summer program or a year-round "pro" option, where teens are paid to work at area nonprofits.

INDIANAPOLIS — Teens like Alexa Castillo are getting a head start in life through a free program called TeenWorks. It is a program empowering at-risk youth to succeed in college, the community and their career.

"They have all these barriers. It's just an uphill battle to get into college or whatever they want to do after high school," said Jenny Jones, TeenWorks community engagement director.

Jones said TeenWorks prepares the students for the next step in their lives.

The group offers a six-week summer program or a year-round "pro" option where teens are paid to work at area nonprofits.

"A lot of these teens are even able to provide for their families in a way. A lot of them are helping with bills or things like that, groceries, it's not just the job," Jones said.

Castillo is a high school senior and part of the team at People for Urban Progress. They take items some deem unusable and make them usable again.

However, Castillo said that's not all she's learning.

"I'm really just learning general employability skills and learning how to address myself in a professional manner," Jones said.

Turae Dabney, the executive director of People for Urban Progress, said it takes a lot of manpower to create their bags because everything is hand-cut. They definitely appreciate the extra hands because of that. Dabney believes this program makes a difference in more ways than one.

"Because we are able to increase our labor workforce, we are able to create more products. Once we are able to create more products, we can sell more products," Dabney said. "Once we sell more products, it's a rippling effect, and that money goes back into our community because we are a nonprofit."

TeenWorks also provides free lunch and transportation for teens to get to their jobs. This allows them to break down as many barriers as possible to expose young people to all the options around them.

"I think it's really empowering to see people who look like them and just realize that it's an option," Jones said.

And knowing those options gives young people like Castillo the confidence they need to get ahead in life.

"Our youth are actually pretty powerful, and I think they could honestly change the world," Castillo said.

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