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First jobs a priority

Seabrook creating opportunities for high school students since 2001

Created date

July 6th, 2016
Seabrook employee Valerie Simms (left) with resident Rosalind Van Bloem,.

Valerie Simms (left) started her Seabrook career as a student server in the on-site restaurants. Now she continues to serve residents like Rosalind Van Bloem, pictured here, as a licensed practical nurse in the on-site continuing care neighborhood.

Earlier this year, President Obama announced a new initiative to increase employment for America’s young people. The Summer Opportunity Project aims to “get young people into their first jobs and create strong transitions between school years and from high school to college and careers,” he wrote in a LinkedIn post announcing the initiative on February 25.

The President says landing a first job doesn’t come as easily as it once did. Most young people between 16 and 24 don’t have a job, especially those who aren’t in school.

“The prospect of finding a job with a blank resume, limited education, and no meaningful connections to employers can be daunting,” he wrote. 

The President urges local businesses to make connections, create summer jobs, and welcome young people who need them. 

Here in N.J.

One local company is a model for the Summer Opportunity Project. The President’s first job, as an ice cream scooper at Baskin-Robbins in Honolulu, is much like the first jobs for nearly 120 high school students who work at Seabrook, the Erickson Living community in Tinton Falls, N.J. 

Food service teaches valuable lessons in responsibility; hard work; and balancing work, school, and social life. 

“Our student servers learn patience, compassion, communication skills, and an appreciation for their history,” says Seabrook Director of Dining Mary Beth Sheehan. 

Sheehan says the students are not the only ones who benefit from their first job. The student server program supports Seabrook’s mission to help community members live better lives. 

“Our residents love getting to know the students and enjoy seeing them daily.  Many have remarked that they feel like they are around their own grandchildren,” says Sheehan.

“The program adds a wonderful intergenerational component to the resident living experience. The residents really get to know and grow attached to the student servers,” says Director of Resident Life Jennifer McNamara. “Many will say they enjoy having the ‘youth’ around them, especially if they do not already have youngsters in their life or they are at a distance. It also helps residents feel more connected to the local community.”

Life lessons

Seabrook employs 118 high school students in food-service positions. They learn the ins and outs of the job as well as one rather rare bonus for a first job: how to interact with an older generation.

The intergenerational aspect of the Seabrook community magnifies those values any young person would learn in their first professional work environment.

“They learn to be more tolerant of those who are different and get to hear about the ways that this older population has paved the way for our lives today. There is an appreciation that develops for seniors as they get to know them individually as people,” says McNamara. 

As an added bonus, these jobs last throughout a student’s high school career, not just for the summer. And oftentimes, students who start out as servers continue their careers with Seabrook or its parent company, Erickson Living.

Take Valerie Simms, for example. She started her Seabrook career as a student server and now provides care and support to those in continuing care as a licensed practical nurse (L.P.N.).  

“I think Erickson Living/Seabrook is a great company for offering the student servers program because of the long-lasting relationships you develop with staff and residents and how much you can grow within the company,” she says.

As a student server, she says she learned respect and kindness—two precious values. “I chose to stay because I knew I would not be able to find another company as supportive and encouraging as Seabrook,” she says.

“It’s a great entry-level position for students,” McNamara says. “They have the opportunity not only to learn the restaurant daily operations but also to connect with other professionals here at Seabrook that may lead them to their long-term career aspirations. Many of our students come back and intern with us in other areas as they pursue their degrees. I’ve had several social work interns that started out as students in our dining program.” 

Paying it forward

To show their appreciation, Seabrook community members may contribute to the Scholars’ Fund, which awards scholarships to high school seniors to help them attend a higher education institution such as technical school, college, or a university.

Last year, the fund raised $130,446.70.

Eligible students can receive awards of up to $1,000 per year. All scholarship monies are sent directly to the student’s college or university. This year, the program has 27 scholarship candidates. 

To qualify, students must work year-round at least 500 hours during each of their junior and senior years of high school and remain in “good standing” at Seabrook as determined by management.

The awards ceremony takes place in June, around graduation time, to acknowledge students’ achievements. “Residents, students, and their families join for the awarding of the scholarships, followed by a celebratory lunch,” says McNamara.

Kudos, Mr. President

Though the Summer Opportunity Project concept isn’t new to McNamara, she applauds the President for his initiative. 

“It really works,” she says. “When the kids start to feel connected to something bigger and when they see how many opportunities there are available to them, either through learning about the career paths of the staff at Seabrook or hearing the stories from residents and their journeys in life, they start to see what really is possible for them in life.”