MERIDEN — A program that aims to help guide youth and young adults toward a rewarding career will receive new federal grant funds.
Local leaders on Thursday were joined by U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal at Beat the Street Community Center’s gym on South Colony Street to announce that the organization was awarded a new $25,000 federal Employment and Training Administration grant to support the organization’s Career Development Program.
According to Beat the Street, the program supports club members who are 14 years and older establish educational and career goals, as well as craft and follow through with plans to accomplish them.
The program combines one-on-one mentoring, group sessions, along with field trips to college campuses and potential employers. It caters to members’ individual needs, including guiding them through college and financial aid applications, and helping them navigate obstacles toward achieving those goals.
Larry Pelletier, Beat the Street’s executive director, described the Career Development program as one of the nonprofit center’s staple programs. The program began about a decade ago, as an off-shoot of the organization’s Career Explorers program, which caters to Beat the Street’s younger members.
Pelletier described the overall career program as a successful initiative. In Career Explorers, students are exposed to different career opportunities, by visiting various employers and speaking with professionals in those fields.
When members reach the ages of 14, 15 or 16, the agency works with them to set career goals and develop action plans. What are a member’s career goals is one of the first questions, Pelletier explained.
“Is it your first full time job? Is it getting the type of education while you’re in high school that you’re going to need to progress into college or any type of secondary education?” Pelletier said. That’s where Beat the Street staff members and volunteers come in.
Gabriella Rodriguez recently became the program’s director. She works with individual members one-on-one — “directing them to different resources not only in Meriden, but other towns as well,” Rodriguez said.
“It’s been a truly great opportunity to work with all ages, to see them succeed. Whether they need help getting their high school diploma, applying for college, applying for their first job, helping them with resumes, cover letters — just preparing them for that next step,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said as a recent college graduate herself, having the opportunity to help others achieve that same benchmark has proven to be an “amazing” experience.
The grant comes as nonprofit groups like Beat the Street bounce back from the setbacks they’ve faced throughout the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Pelletier, earlier in the year, detailed the financial challenges the group endured in its application for a share of Meriden’s American Rescue Plan Act money.
The pandemic’s financial impact had been continuous and detrimental, the group’s application explained. For example, fundraising over the past two fiscal years plummeted by 75%.
Thanks to ARPA funds and the new funding announced this week, program leaders voiced confidence that the Career Development Program will be able to continue its objectives.
Pelletier said the newly announced support will help Beat the Street take its program “to the next level.”
“Nonprofits in Meriden and in surrounding communities need this type of support, because we work with boots on the ground every day with members,” Pelletier said. “ And it’s not just the opportunities that we give these individuals. We have to prepare them to be able to know how to take advantage of these opportunities. That’s where the work starts. They really have to work at it.”
Not only do the members, many of whom come from disadvantaged backgrounds, benefit from the program. Employers do as well, Pelletier explained.
“They need this support… They need people they can hire with the skillsets and the competencies that they need to come in and be productive employees. So we’re all in this together,” Pelletier said.
Blumenthal echoed those remarks, describing the staff and volunteers at Beat the Street as role models and mentors who help give young people the vision to see their future potential.
“We’ve all had role models and mentors in our lives. We didn’t get here by ourselves,” Blumenthal said. “Every single one of us owes somebody else who gave us a hand up, gave us that vision. We have an obligation to provide it for others. This grant, I hope, is just the beginning.”
Elected officials at Thursday’s press conference did not include local Republicans. The Record-Journal separately reached out to the campaign of Republican Leora Levy, who is running against Blumenthal in his Senate reelection bid. Levy’s campaign did not respond.
Meanwhile, the Meriden Republican Town Committee did respond to the newspaper’s inquiry. RTC Chairwoman Elain Cariati stated, “Beat the Street is a great organization doing amazing things with the youth in Meriden. We wish them continued success.”
During the announcement, state Rep. Hilda Santiago stressed the importance of ensuring that agencies like Beat the Street have the resources they need to help prepare youth in their transition from middle school and high school to higher education or directly into the workforce.
“They’re our future. And we have to be able to make sure that they’re trained, that they have an idea of what they want to do. And it’s not so hard when you get out of high school and graduate to find a job,” Santiago said.
She described the Career Development Program at Beat the Street as one that is “very well used.”
Mayor Kevin Scarpati similarly described investing in nonprofits like Beat the Street that specifically impact youth as important. Having the federal government step up highlights that importance, “to make sure they continue to grow. We are investing in our future in these programs,” he said.
Pelletier explained that such funding allows his organization to maintain its commitment to the Meriden community.
“We have to make sure we’re doing the work we say we’re going to do,” he said.