FARMINGTON — Turrin Mondor, 19, spends an average of 30 hours a week at the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies on Main Street, opening and closing the store, keeping track of inventory, organizing credit card statements and cash deposits, and helping customers.

Turrin Mondor poses at the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies on Main Street in Farmington where they have a 300-hour funded position through the federal Workforce Innovations and Opportunities Act. Mondor is the first person in Franklin County to receive the youth-focused category of these federal funds. Andrea Swiedom/Franklin Journal

This is Mondor’s second job, funded through the federal Workforce Innovations and Opportunities Act implemented by Congress in 2014. The act supersedes the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 and was passed to grow local economies and reduce workforce barriers for specific populations such as youth and dislocated workers.

“It’s a program that’s been around for decades, just how it’s been implemented hasn’t really been brought to the forefront,” said Workforce Development Specialist Karen Henderson of Community Concepts Inc.

Community Concepts has been subcontracted in Androscoggin, Oxford, Franklin, Somerset and Kennebec counties to provide Workforce Innovations and Opportunities Act services, linking workers such as Mondor with host sites that commit to training a participant with new skills.

The funding provides host sites with 300 hours of labor, but Henderson emphasized that each participant’s work plan varies depending on their needs and the host’s capacity.

“So even though we’re paying the wages, they’re doing the time commitment to teach the student, to mentor the student, but that really is the spirit of community partner and community engagement,” Henderson said.

For youth funding, the criteria includes a requirement of 16 to 24 years old and other eligibility factors that identify people who have experienced significant barriers from a young age. These could include a background in homelessness, a teen pregnancy, an incomplete high school education or learning challenges.

“The age is one component and then it can be one from another list of criterion,” Henderson said. “And there are nuances, I mean there are so many; cases are very diverse. Family dynamics can be very diverse.” 

In Mondor’s case, eligibility stemmed from homelessness. The 19-year-old slowly raised 10 fingers indicating all of the towns lived in while growing up, roaming in and out of guardians’ unstable homes, friends’ houses and apartments shared with manipulative partners.  

“Growing up, I didn’t have a lot of boundaries. … For the past 10 years I’ve had free-range to go where I want, when I want, with who I want,” Mondor said, explaining that seeking alternative living arrangements was usually less traumatic than living with guardians.

Mondor managed to graduate despite constantly shifting places of shelter, and at Mt. Blue High School met Bonita Lehigh, the founder of the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, who was teaching business classes at the time.

Bonita Lehigh stands at the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies in Farmington. Lehigh opened the center in July after a year of developing the concept with her Mt. Blue High School students. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal 2020 file photo

During Mondor’s junior year, Lehigh proposed to her students the idea of starting a center that would foster young entrepreneurs. By the summer of 2019, Lehigh and a group of dedicated students filed 501(c)(3) nonprofit paperwork.

“I have actually been here since the beginning when it was just an idea,” Mondor said from behind the counter that displays some of their own merchandise, dog collars printed with sarcastic expressions.

The center provides space for youth to sell their line of retail items or their products such as whoopie pies or handmade jewelry. Lehigh mentors youth as they jump-start microbusinesses and learn how to market their products or services.

Part of Mondor’s position is managing this diverse spread of merchandise and engaging in conversations with customers to spread awareness of the center’s mission. This has been the most noticeable area of growth for Mondor, who struggles with social anxiety.

Developing customer service skills is one of Mondor’s identified goals, which are reviewed every two weeks with Henderson and Lehigh. These reviews are part of what Henderson refers to as an all-encompassing process that starts with an open conversation with a participant, develops goals and reviews the job expectations with the host and ends with a final assessment.

“I think it’s fair that the student wants to know they’ve learned or gained skills and what that job description is because we want to build that confidence level too. … We want them to see that they’ve grown as an individual,” Henderson said.

For Mondor, who has 90 paid hours left, the Workforce Innovations and Opportunities Act process has been empowering so far. Even the assessment test required during the initial stages of the program was a confidence booster.

“I definitely know that I do struggle with reading … so to take that test and to be on a level where everyone else my age is and older, it felt accomplishing,” Mondor said.

Mondor is now mentoring other youth, including a younger sister, who volunteers time at the center.

“I will show them how to do the invoices, receive payments as well as the deposits sometimes,” Mondor said.

Another goal for Mondor is to contribute to making the center a comfortable space for the constant stream of homeless youth approaching the center, with the goal of being a person who, because of past experience, would relate well to homeless youth and would help make them feel comfortable getting involved.

Lehigh has her sights on hosting at least three more youth through the Workforce Innovations and Opportunities Act funding and keeping Mondor on as an employee and continuing to train in QuickBooks.

This is Henderson’s “pie in the sky” vision in which work hosts keep Workforce Innovations and Opportunities Act youth on as employees after the program and offer workforce training to additional participants.

Learning the daily operations of a business will also provide the foundational skills Mondor needs to open a salon/barbershop in the future.

To learn more about Workforce Innovations and Opportunities Act opportunities, contact Workforce Development Specialist Karen Henderson at [email protected] or by calling (800) 866 5588, ext. 2213.

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