Youth Work/Learn Program participants have become a fixture of summer throughout the Nation

For more than 25 years, the Oneida Indian Nation’s Youth Work/Learn Program has provided Oneida and American Indian youth an introduction to the professional world, placing young adults into various formal work settings for six weeks. While hours worked are dependent upon age, each and every participant learns the importance of responsibilities associated with an actual job, including time management, ability to take directions, attendance and performance.

“The goals for the YWL program are twofold,” Randy Phillips, education programs assistant manager, said when describing its significance. “For the crew age participants, the goal is to help develop a good work ethic. Older students that are assigned to Nation worksites are placed in a situation where they are mentored in a new job and given the opportunity to perform tasks on their own.”

Since YWL’s inception in 1992, several hundred 13- to 19-year-olds have been introduced to the world of adult responsibility and good work ethics. And for some, the opportunity has led to choosing a career path as well.

Summer 2017 Participants

Sadie Schenandoah-Stanford (Wolf Clan) is a veteran of YWL, having put in a few years with the younger crew and recently completing her second year working at the Oneida Nation Library. Sadie likes the sense of community she gets from working at the Children & Elders Center, and enjoys visits from the Nation Elders who have come to know her while she has worked at the library. Her daily tasks of sorting and shelving books and organizing the library archives have helped her develop time management skills that she knows will benefit her in the future. The high school senior is planning on attending Syracuse University to study psychology and looks forward to returning to the program next year to continue to gain valuable experience.

Jasmine Rood (Turtle Clan) is another veteran of the program, having finished up her fourth year overall and her second at Oneida Heritage Sales and Rentals. Jasmine enjoyed working with the staff at the store including Ron Patterson (Wolf Clan), Holly Gibson (Turtle Clan) and Alex Dickerman (Turtle Clan). Beading topped her list of responsibilities, a task she’s come to appreciate and admire. She learned while beading alongside Holly, a sales associate at Oneida Heritage. The two worked on replica Hiawatha belts of all varying sizes that will be sold in the store. “It’s a cool job to have,” said the 15-year-old Jasmine, who looks forward to returning to Oneida Heritage next summer and starting her college search.

At the SāvOn PlazaMart on Rte. 5 in Oneida, 18-year-old Alayna Dockstader enjoyed her work experience while participating in the program for the first time. Looking to gain real-life job experience, the high school senior took on a variety of tasks during her stint at SāvOn, including working the deli counter and cashier at the registers. She enjoyed learning from her co-workers as they made the experience fun and enjoyable. Alayna recommends that any eligible young adult looking for summer work take advantage of the program to get experience.

One of the popular areas for young adults to request work placement in is the golf department at Turning Stone Resort Casino. This year, 16-year-old Dylan Curtis readied golfers for play at the Shenendoah Clubhouse, just one of his many responsibilities. This was his third year participating in YWL, but his first outside of the crew, and he looks forward to returning next summer. After a few days of showing him the ropes, the golf department employees were able to let him go on his own. He’d clear the driving range or wash the golf carts, and be back quickly for whatever new task was given to him. Amazed and humbled by the respect shown to him by the other employees, Dylan can’t wait for YWL to start again next year.

Aliyah Frederick (Turtle Clan) chose to work at the Early Learning Center this summer after working last year at Oneida Heritage. This was her fourth year in the program and the 16-year-old enjoyed the change of pace. Her main responsibility this year was working in the Infant-2 room to ensure the kids play safely. Interacting with two year olds means there was always something to do and each day was never the same. She enjoyed the last two summers learning about her Oneida heritage and working in different departments. Aliyah plans to focus on school the next two years to get into her first choice of colleges and looks forward to coming back to YWL.

Eighteen-year-old Brandi Ross returned for her third year at the Early Learning Center. Her main role this summer was being a teacher’s assistant, which she found to be interesting and rewarding. Brandi typically was assigned to the Pre-K block and enjoyed the interaction with the kids throughout the day. The structure of YWL, specifically at the ELC, keeps her coming back and she’s excited to return for one more year. Brandi starts classes at Monroe Valley Community College this fall.

Joining Aliyah and Brandi at the ELC was Alaina Beane, who after spending two years on the crew, was happy to join the working ranks. She enjoyed the flexibility to move around the center depending on what needed to get done. On any given day she could be rocking babies to sleep or monitoring the older kids’ recess. The first thing Alaina did every day was to check the board to see which room she was assigned to. It didn’t matter which because she enjoyed interacting with all of the kids, learning their habits and figuring out what they liked to do. She looks forward to returning to the ELC next year and is excited to explore careers in Child and Family Studies.

Casey Stepian (Turtle Clan) also participated in the program this year, completing duties at the Snug Harbour Marina on Oneida Lake.

Crew Enjoys Wide Variety of Experiences

Participants in the crew enjoyed a wide-ranging experience this summer through educational trips, cultural activities and collaborative teamwork. The crew this summer included Elsie Cook (Wolf Clan), Kailee Cook (Wolf Clan), Thomas Lynch, Kadin Martin, Lisa Powless (Wolf Clan), Ayanna Relyea (Wolf Clan) and Trevir Relyea (Wolf Clan).

Randy highlighted the importance of instilling a strong work ethic for the younger kids while also including a cultural element. “At times, they are assigned a cultural component as well as the valuable opportunity to participate in the archaeological dig,” he said. “This gives the kids an opportunity to learn Oneida history and study cultural artifacts.”

The kids participated in the archaeological dig in mid-August. Joined by the Oneida Language Department and Four Directions, they were attempting to uncover long-lost artifacts from more than 600 years ago. Some items collected were pieces of pottery, deer bone and chert, which is a type of sedimentary rock used to construct stone tools.

Jesse Bergevin, historic research specialist, guided the kids to the site of the dig and helped identify the pieces they dug up. “From past excavations, we know that longhouses were built in this general area,” he said.

The site wound through a wooded area with a stream down into a flat with tall grasses. The location would’ve been a perfect spot for building a village with so many natural resources readily available. After digging, kids used screens to dispose of excess dirt, which helped to point out potential artifacts.

Several kids showed off what they found. Elsie Cook thought her team found a lot. “We learned how to screen the dirt and found all of these,” she said pointing out several unique shapes. “It’s hot out here digging in the sun, but it’s been fun.”

One other unique event kids in the crew had the opportunity to try was the new Warrior Archery range located in Oneida Heritage Sales and Rentals. Ron Patterson (Wolf Clan) led the group and showed them the proper technique when using a bow and arrow.

“It was pretty cool,” Lisa Powless (Wolf Clan) said after. “I’d definitely like to try that again.”

Earlier in the summer, the crew also visited the Iroquois Indian Museum outside of the Albany/Schenectady area. Artist and muralist Jay Havens (Mohawk) showed the kids his latest murals and invited them to take part in a unique project that will be permanently installed at the museum.

Whether it’s through work-related activities or a chance to discover their culture more closely, participants in the crew have the opportunity to explore their heritage and learn the value of hard work. The interpersonal growth of participants in the Youth Work Learn program cannot be understated. Young adults assigned to worksites or kids starting out in the crew learn the value of work, self-esteem and a good education.

“Learning actual job skills in a variety of environments is important,” Randy said. “The Nation has so many opportunities to offer and we would like to continue this practice, and perhaps, broaden the scope of work we are allowed to do at this time.”

Pictured at the top of the page are participants in the crew: Thomas Lynch, Kailee Cook (Wolf Clan), Elsie Cook (Wolf Clan), Lisa Powless (Wolf Clan), Ayanna Relyea (Wolf Clan), Trevir Relyea (Wolf Clan) and Kadin Martin (front).