Profile Story: United Way of Central Iowa

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By Rick Brown, Principal Charity Classic Senior Reporter

United Way of Central Iowa marketing officer Don Honnold has worked as a volunteer at the Principal Charity Classic for 13 years. He’s got a string of tournament badges hanging in his office as proof.

This year, you’ll find him marshaling at Wakonda’s par-5 5th hole.

“You’re on the tee and here comes Tom Kite, or Fuzzy Zoeller, or Bernhard Langer, all these Hall of Fame golfers,” Honnold said. “It’s pretty cool.”

The golf is great, as Honnold can attest. But he’ll also be happy to tell you about the charitable impact the Principal Charity Classic has on the Des Moines community.

The United Way of Central Iowa is one of the tournament’s six designated “Fore Our Kids” Tournament Charity Partners.

“We’re really proud to be one of the charities, and we hope to do some good work with the proceeds to help improve the lives of kids in the community,” Honnold said. “It’s a win-win all around.”

Some of those charity dollars have helped fund the Summer Youth Employment Program.  Operating out of Oakridge Neighborhood Services and the Evelyn K. Davis Center for Working Families, the program helps youth between the ages of 14 and 18 in a multitude of areas, including learning skills needed to find and keep a job, financial literacy and taking part in service learning projects.

“The overall value has been very important to the community as a whole, because summer youth employment opportunities are limited, and access to these opportunities, particularly to minority students, has not been as great as one would like,” said Marvin DeJear, Jr., director of the Evelyn K. Davis Center for Working Families. “So the funding that goes to this program is really critical to us and has actually allowed us to expand each summer.”

There were 48 participants through Oakridge in 2014, and 41 in 2015. That program had a 100 percent retention rate. At the Davis Center, the program had 51 participants in 2014 and 78 last year, with a 93 percent retention rate.

“We had over 300 apply (in 2015),” DeJear said. “There were over 180 interviews but we had to bring it down to 78. So while it’s been helpful, there’s still a huge need.”

Those who get to participate have an opportunity to learn a wide range of job-related skills while gaining valuable experience.

“They have to go through an interview to be accepted into the program,” DeJear said. “Then there’s two weeks of pre-employment skills that also incorporates financial literacy. They learn about entrepreneurship, making their own resume, and are taught proper communication, dress code, and understanding career opportunities. Those are the first two weeks, and it’s mandatory.”

After that, those in the program are put in an eight-week job experience.

“Once they start those eight weeks, every Friday we bring them back to the center and they participate in a visit to a college campus or community service projects we have them engage in to help build the civic engagement component as far as building better citizens for the future,” DeJear said.

Those college visits are usually to Iowa State or DMACC in Ankeny. Grand View has also been utilized, and Drake and Northern Iowa may be in the future.

DeJear said the experience gained is an invaluable piece to the Summer Youth Employment Program.

“You can’t beat hands-on experience,” DeJear, Jr., said. “Even the students that have been repeat participants, we can definitely see the changes. We see the growth, as far as actually being able to go out and apply it in a job setting. Even understanding how to manage their money. Because once we teach them the financial literacy in those first two weeks, we actually have them apply it and come back and learn how to manage their money. The importance of having those hands-on applications is really critical for them for growth.”

For many, these opportunities wouldn’t exist if not for the Summer Youth Employment Program.

“It’s going to pay dividends for generations to come,” Honnold said. “These are kids who know they’ll get some good direction on what they want to do after high school. It gives them motivation to graduate from high school. It shows them what the world of work looks like and how to prepare themselves for a career.”