High school students are invited to join BrightWorks Clubs to learn how to turn their interests into meaningful careers. The club is a spin-off of BrightFuturesUmpqua.com, a website toolkit that helps students navigate opportunities after high school.

Starting the first week of December, club participants will meet online each week. Students will receive guidance, resources, skills and connections necessary to explore their desired career and educational pathways. Plus, a focus on career-connected learning will lead students to community engagement. The virtual club platform will provide the opportunity for youth with common interests to connect between communities and schools.

The purpose of the club is to empower students. In the 2020 Opportunity Index database (www.opportunityindex.org), it was reported that 22.5% of youth in Douglas County, between 16-24 years old are either not in school or working, nearly twice what it is in the state (11.9%). Brightworks Clubs wants to be part of the solution and proactively reduce that number in the future.

The mission of the program is to help youth graduate from high school with a purposeful vision for their futures. When youth have a purposeful vision and can take the necessary steps to make their dreams a reality, they not only will live happy, fulfilling lives, but will also contribute to the health and vibrancy of their communities as a whole.

The facilitators of BrightWorks Clubs are AmeriCorps members, Elena Contreras and Isaac Norman. They are passionate about helping youth explore post-high school opportunities and are here to offer guidance. They are also partnering with local school districts and programs such as Educational Talent Search, Upward Bound and the Boys & Girls Club to integrate the clubs into what is already available to students. To promote the program, they have prepared a short informational presentation for interested stakeholders.

The program brings together several entities needed to support students’ success. “No single group can do all that is needed to support students on their own,” says Isaac Norman, a BrightWorks Clubs program facilitator. One of the resources that students will be introduced to is Oregon Connections, an online platform where students can access discussions led by industry professionals from nearly every career imaginable. A particular focus will be placed on local careers and job market.

The initial club meetings will focus on three weeks of relationship building in a safe virtual space where youth can come to socialize. The program will continue with curriculum that includes career exploration, education to career paths, skill building, life skills and student choice. Each activity will help students realize what they like to do, what they are good at, what they need to succeed, and how to get where they want to go. Elena and Isaac have invested many hours in planning the program.

Additionally, students will have the opportunity to attend workshops that cover topics such as applying to college, interviewing tips and paying taxes. Lastly, each student will have the chance to create and present a project that focuses on community engagement.

Aside from leading BrightWorks Clubs, Elena and Isaac are available to support students with navigating distance learning, homework help, college applications, financial aid, scholarship applications and more.

BrightWorks Clubs will run through the end of the school year and is funded by the Umpqua Valley Steam Hub through generous grants from the Meyer Memorial Trust and the State of Oregon/STEM Investment Council.

To learn more about BrightWorks Clubs and to sign up, visit www.dcpss.org/brightworksclubs

If you’d like to watch a presentation about the program, contact Elena Contreras at elena.contreras@ucancap.org or Isaac Norman at isaac.norman@ucancap.org

Gwen Soderberg-Chase is the executive director of Douglas County Partners for Student Success, www.dcpss.org and the Umpqua Valley STEAM Hub. She has been an educator in Douglas County for more than 40 years and is currently an Associate Professor of Education at Umpqua Community College. She also serves on the board of directors for the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Umpqua Valley.

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