LEWISTON — Twenty young people and 20 business people are scheduled to meet Wednesday night for pizza and pasta at Androscoggin Bank.
The gathering’s purpose is to talk about, well, anything. This is not about job interviews. Instead, it is a bring-yourself-as-yourself event.
Organizers hope the gettogether will create connections that lead to real relationships and, eventually, work that gives more young people reasons to stay here and businesses the employees they desperately need.
Julia Sleeper, executive director at Tree Street Youth, said the new Community Connections Initiative was born out of regularly fielding calls from businesses in industries like banking and healthcare asking if they had leads on workers.
Tree Street Youth provides academic, arts and athletic programming to 750 students a year, from pre-K to grade 12. Sixty-five percent come from immigrant or refugee families.
Sleeper said they asked older students and alumni, as well as local businesses, what they would like to see around workforce development.
“In a lot of our listening, we found everyone just really wants to talk,” she said. “It is at the forefront of both the young people — their future goals and jobs and careers and visions for their lives — and that’s what’s exactly at the forefront of a lot of local businesses: How do we engage their visions and lives and goals?”
Northeast Bank, Hebert Construction, Androscoggin Bank and the Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce have provided early support.
The monthly “workforce dialogue dinners” are part of the plan, as are mentoring and monthly performing arts events.
“It’s not the CareerCenter, it’s not a recruiting firm. We’re not going to match an employee with your bank tomorrow,” said Ronnie Weston, a donor-relations and fundraising consultant for Tree Street.
“It’s really about outcomes: Is the community viewing the potential workforce in a different way than when this program started? And are the youth more comfortable in reaching out to the businesses and feeling more connected?”
Sleeper said Tree Street Youth (www.treestreetyouth.org/communityconnections) has heard from alumni who have been socially and academically successful, including graduating from college, but who then struggle with entering the workforce.
“There was still this real, honest vulnerability around how difficult it is to walk into a room with business people and know whether or not I’m doing things right,” she said. “‘Are there unwritten rules I’m not aware of?’ That was the voice coming from a lot of kids. They were still holding that anxiety, that nervous energy around how to do business networking.”
Pizza, pasta and anything goes might help break the ice.
Tree Street is looking for more business partners for the year-long program.