When Berea Kids Eat initially launched the COVID 19 Pandemic meal response shortly after school closures, Berea Community School staff and faculty helped fill the labor gaps and ensure that operations continued in Spring of 2020. However, by the Summer of 2020, Berea Kids Eat was confronted with a labor shortage as school position hours were exhausted.
Simultaneously, BKE was made aware that a number of teens were facing a crisis of their own: a lack of safe employment and job training opportunities. The leading employer of teens in the area was the foodservice industry, and the restaurant industry had slowed significantly. Additionally, many other service industry jobs had ceased hiring, and job training programs were placed on hold.
Berea Kids Eat and Berea Community School together recognized the opportunity to simultaneously meet the needs of the community and as well as create an employment solution for high school and recent high school graduates. With the support of Feeding Kentucky, No Kid Hungry Foundation, and local donors, Berea Kids Eat launched the Youth Opportunity Through Service initiative.
Over 22 high school students and recent Alum were guided through an application and interview process, and upon hire were assigned to site supervisors that also served as job mentors. Students were provided hourly wages, and also were assigned to job duties that led to leadership roles. Upon their service completion, youth workers to provided with exit interviews, and Berea Kids Eat was proud to provide over 35 letters of recommendation to college and scholarship applications, as well as references for vocational school and job positions at Berea manufacturing facilities.
Student-workers shared that the Youth Opportunity Through Service initiative not only provided them with the chance to earn wages and gain experience in a safe environment during the pandemic but also helped preserve their emotional health and improve their personal wellness. By adhering to healthy-at-work guidelines, Berea Kids Eat provided safe space for teens and young adults to work together, and process their experiences while serving the community.