“SummerWorks has helped me to learn about careers and to be more confident and comfortable with working. The program taught me things that I will use for the rest of my life.”

“You guys have given me a good start at life, I’m grateful for that. SummerWorks was exactly what I needed.”

That’s how two Vancouver high school seniors – Haley Farnstrom from Mountain View High School, and Martin Koenig from Prairie High School – described their time spent over the summer as participants in ESD 112’s SummerWorks program, a Workforce Southwest Washington initiative that provides students with 40 hours of professional development training and a 100-hour paid internship with a local business.

Funded by the state’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR), the program engages with current students, ages 16-21, who receive Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or 504 services and reside in Clark and Cowlitz counties.

“For the vast majority of our students, this program is their introduction to the workforce; it’s their first job,” explained Christine Katon, a SummerWorks program coordinator. “We have the opportunity to work alongside these individuals as they experience work for the first time, learning how to problem solve along the way so they can get the most out of it. It’s truly an unforgettable experience.”

This past summer, 95 students from across the region were placed in SummerWorks internships – a nearly 400% increase compared to last year’s program, which was completely virtual as a result of COVID-19.

“Our intern, Milo, did great work for our program,” commented Chad Mullen, business and community engagement manager for ESD 112’s Career Connect program. “In our short time together, I witnessed Milo ‘step up’ the professionalism in his written/email communication with me. I’m really impressed with how independently he worked, and how well he incorporated my feedback and direction into his work.”

By summer’s end, each participating student is able to exit the program with a professional portfolio in-hand: a resume, cover letters and professional references. Some students are even offered jobs to continue their work post-internship, as was the case for 14 students this year. But perhaps the most important benefit, according to Katon, comes in the form of an improved self-confidence and belief in one’s abilities.

“We see students’ self-confidence grow immensely between the first time we meet them and the end of the summer,” she said. “Not only are our students discovering that they can succeed in the workplace, but they’re also learning how to advocate for what they need to be successful; learning how to ask if they need accommodation or extra assistance. These are skills they’ll need for the rest of their lives.”

“There’s nothing better than to walk into the grocery store and see a young person we worked with who began with no confidence now happily working,” added Becky Mohagen, a SummerWorks program coordinator. “It just reminds me of the impact we’re able to have on their lives, and their impact on us.”

Mohagen noted that the program would not be the success it is today – positively impacting the lives of so many students – without the support of the local business community.

“We’ve had great businesses that we’ve partnered with – I can’t stress that enough,” she said. “They are a huge part of our success, and we are so thankful.”

Clark County 2021 SummerWorks partners included:

  • ESD 112 (& associated programs)
  • Clark County Bank
  • Habitat for Humanity
  • All Natural Pet Supply
  • BatCave Games
  • Flower Express
  • Clark County Parks & Rec
  • Fort Vancouver Regional Library
  • Clark County Humane Society
  • Gulick Trucking
  • Washougal Humane Society
  • North County Food Bank
  • Workforce SW Washington
  • 4th Plain Forward
  • WorkSource
  • Camas Produce
  • Evergreen Habitat for Humanity
  • Partners in Careers’ Road to Roots – Heritage Farms

Cowlitz County 2021 SummerWorks partners included:

  • Children’s Discovery Museum
  • Habitat for Humanity ReStore
  • Habitat for Humanity Brush with Kindness Program
  • Longview Public Library
  • Cowlitz County Humane Society
  • Kelso School District
  • Toutle Lake School District
  • Lifeworks Farm Dog Bakery
  • Lower Columbia School Gardens
  • The Dog Zone
  • Cowlitz/Wahkiakum WorkSource
  • Lower Columbia College Welding Department

If you are interested in SummerWorks or in hosting a SummerWorks student for their work experience, please contact Christine Katon or Becky Mohagen.