A new job skills program in Vermont’s Chittenden County is using car detailing as a tool to steer at-risk youth in more positive directions.
Spectrum Youth and Family Services launched Detail Works earlier this month.
It is a social enterprise that aims to give job and life skills to young employees, while they work on cleaning the interiors and exteriors of cars.
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“I don’t know what I want to do with my life right now, so I’m doing everything I can to try to figure out what I might want to do in the future,” said Charles Hemingway, a Detail Works employee.
Spectrum is a nonprofit based in Burlington that provides counseling, medical access, meals, and other services to at-risk people aged 12-26, and to their families, as they look to turn their lives around.
Spectrum also makes housing available for some clients in their late teens and early 20s who are at risk of homelessness.
Hemingway said he was previously homeless, before Spectrum admitted him to one of its housing programs.
“I don’t think I’d be anywhere at this point,” Hemingway said in response to a question about where he’d be without the support of Spectrum.
“I was lucky,” recalled Mark Redmond, the executive director of Spectrum Youth & Family Services. “I had a lot of people believe in me growing up. These kids haven’t had that. They’ve come from homelessness, foster care, the children’s mental health system, parents who might be in prison, parents who are missing.”
Detail Works now has eight employees working 20 hours a week under Spectrum’s Justin Verette, who said he strives to foster an upbeat, accepting, and supportive atmosphere.
Verette stresses personal accountability and a good attitude as critical workplace skills, while small groups work in two shifts cleaning personal and fleet vehicles.
“One of the biggest things here is we’re trying to teach the soft skills,” Verette said. “For kids to learn how to get a job and keep a job, and also how to work as a team.”
Redmond explained that communication is a big part of what Detail Works hopes to impart on its employees.
“Showing up on time, how to call out sick, how to speak to a boss, how to speak to customers, how to dress at work—these are the things that frequently derail them,” Redmond told necn.
Employee Ozzy Costa-Mangina said he wants to build a resume and gain references about his work ethic.
He told necn that his teen years were rough, with mental health struggles and some substance abuse.
Now 22, Costa-Mangina said he’s proud to be on a much better, healthier path. He said he greatly appreciates the help Spectrum gave him finding that way.
“The structure’s good,” Costa-Mangina said. “I need that in life to get me back on track. I’ve been clean a year—I don’t want to go back to that life or anything. I’m grateful for everyone in my life that supported me and for where I’m going.”
Redmond said donations got Detail Works up and running, but noted that Spectrum hopes to be a self-sustaining business in three years.