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Youth Training Program Offers Real-life Skills and Education 

August 26, 2021

By William Walker and Morayo Kamson 

Last year, COVID-19 deeply affected young people of color, who were suddenly faced with entering a workforce they were unprepared for. For the second consecutive year, the Port of Seattle continues providing underserved youth with job training and skill development through its Opportunity Youth Initiative program.  By partnering with Seattle Goodwill, Seattle Parks Foundation, Partner in Employment, and Seattle Urban League, the Port was able to support these youth by funding programs to teach them hard skills in different fields.  

We were curious about how they spent their days, so we interviewed four program participants at Seattle Goodwill, one in Goodwill’s Youth Maritime program and three in their Youth STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math program).   

Ceyla Santamaria Garcia, a participant of Seattle Goodwill Industries’ Youth Maritime program, gives us an inside look at the unique way she’s spending her summer learning about the maritime industry.  

Anne-Nasha Bradford, Elizabeth Seitz, and Troy Amador, participants in the Youth STEM program, shared their experiences learning and building skills in STEM-related fields. 

In the office 

Participants in Ceyla’s Maritime program are put into “Career clusters,” with each group doing several different creative projects over the summer. Participants have learned how to create Prezi presentations, make infomercials, and research maritime activities. One great aspect of these projects is their flexibility — participants are able to pursue topics that interest them, while learning valuable skills for the workforce.  

Over in Seattle Goodwill’s Youth STEM program, Anne-Nasha, Elizabeth, and Troy hear from guest speakers from a variety of careers, so they can learn about different life paths they might be interested in. Recently, they heard from someone who worked in a naval shipyard, and a U.S. Marine, and in the future they’ll learn about nursing from another guest speaker.  

One great thing about this program is how the supervisors are able to pick speakers based off of the participants’ interests. Jennifer Alvarez, the Youth Program Specialist for Youth STEM, has worked hard to create a unique and enriching program for the youth. Anne-Nasha, speaking on Alvarez, said “We bonded really easily and I think it’s because of Jennifer — she's really outgoing and she’s just amazing with all of us.” 

The program began online, which was a challenging start for team building.  Thanks to the hard work of the Goodwill program managers, participants still felt welcomed and excited, making their later in- person work better. 

In the field 

After over a year in quarantine and virtual school, OYI has introduced participants not only to new skills, but to in-person work. In Ceyla’s program, participants have done several field trips, her personal favorite being a trip where over a dozen participants went on the sailboat Adventuress with Sound Experience. The group sang sea shanties, folded the sails, learned how to use navigation tools, and learned about plankton. They even learned how to pilot the 133 foot Adventuress, an experience Ceyla never thought she’d get. “It’s something I never thought I’d get to do ...  it was a lot of STEM activities which I appreciated. I come from a STEM school so it really built that experience further.”  

In Youth STEM, participants did team building exercises, as well as volunteer work in the community. One team building exercise was going to STEM-themed escape rooms, including one where they tried to restore power to a New York subway station. The group of participants have grown close working together to clean up trails in Madrona, working at a food bank in Poulsbo, and learning how to build frames for houses in Port Orchard.  

An in-person experience 

When asked about skills they’ve learned that they value, several participants said the same thing — they learned how to work in person.

Anne-Nasha explained, “especially with having COVID and not being able to go to school and getting that — having some kind of communication and working together with individuals has been so amazing, and it makes me miss more in-person things.” 

Anne-Nasha told us how participating in this program has helped build her confidence in ways that online school and other activities haven’t. Not only has this program taught her important skills for the workplace, but it’s also reintroduced her and the other participants to socializing in person.

Anne-Nasha explained, “I think my skill would be confidence — this group has really pushed me out of my comfort zones in all the best ways. I’ve grown a lot since we’ve been in the group, even though we were virtual for a really long time, but I’ve really grown more confident in applying for jobs and working in person.” 

Troy phrased the skills he’s learned as an “upgrade”— he’s now able to work on a team, dedicate himself to a project, and motivate others better than before. Troy is hoping to become a dental hygienist and a musician, and this program has encouraged him to pursue his goals. One of the guest speakers that was brought in was a dental hygienist specifically to help Troy explore the profession, which he really valued.  

Looking forward 

So what’s next for the Opportunity Youth Initiative participants? 

Elizabeth has wanted to be a nurse for years, and in the next few months Jennifer Alvarez has worked to bring a nurse in as a guest speaker so that Elizabeth and the other participants can learn more about life as a medical professional. However, another guest speaker has opened Elizabeth’s eyes to another possible career.

A few weeks ago we had a guest speaker from the Marines come in and they really persuaded me to consider enlisting into the Marines ... it’s really opened my eyes to more possibilities to other careers” said Elizabeth.

Regardless of the path Elizabeth chooses, this program has provided all the participants with the opportunity to explore different futures. 

Ceyla is hoping to continue to work for Seattle Goodwill and one day be a mentor for Seattle Goodwill’s youth program.

“I know a lot of the leaders we have in the program today were peers that were in the program, so I’d really like to stay here and work my way up and also be a mentor in the future ... but also being exposed to all the different types of careers now I don’t know, and I want to do everything!”

The program has been so helpful for Ceyla that she’s hoping to be a mentor in the future, and help the next generation of Opportunity Youth find community and careers.  

For the Port of Seattle, the Opportunity Youth Program is going to grow. This second year of the program, $2 million was provided to give to community (an increase from the $1.5 million last year). Looking to the future, Port leadership is hoping to build the program to be year long instead of just the summer.  


Ceyla in front of a wall with maritime phrases
Ceyla Santamaria Garcia gets ready for job training in the maritime industry through her placement in Seattle Goodwill’s mentorship program.  


Ceyla in front of the Seattle Goodwill building
Ceyla Santamaria Garcia loves her job at Seattle Goodwill. 
Anne-Nasha and Elizabeth in the garden plot
Anne-Nasha Bradford and Elizabeth Seitz picking blackberries in one of the Youth STEM volunteer opportunities.  
Troy sitting inside at a table wearing a mask
Troy Amador preparing for daily activities in the Youth STEM office at Seattle Goodwill.  

Learn more about the Opportunity Initiative

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