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Each year the Summer Worker Outreach Project (SWOP) provides 11 – 14 year olds a six-week course that emphasizes community service, self-accountability, work ethic and money management.

Over the past 21 years, 600 students have attended SWOP which began as a grassroots initiative by area churches and eventually grew into its own non-profit organization. It is available to kids in Chisholm, Mountain Iron-Buhl-Kinney and Virginia. Ten youth are selected from each community and meet three days per week during June and July at their town’s designated host site.

“Eleven to 14 year olds are at such an impressionable age developmentally,” said Melissa Yarick, SWOP executive director. “SWOP provides these youths with exemplary adult role models that lead them in serviceoriented work that aids in their successful transition to adulthood.”

There is one adult per five youth that oversees the group’s weekly activities, which includes a combination of education, guest speakers, field trips and volunteer work. The youth earn a weekly stipend that they deposit into their individual savings account at a community bank.

“These kids truly get the experience of having a summer job with positive adult supervision and mentoring,” said Yarick. “The demand for SWOP has been high and the outcomes positive. The program may potentially be expanded into the communities of Eveleth, Hibbing and Orr.”

Examples of work include lawn care and upkeep of public spaces such as parks, cemeteries, community gardens and libraries; outdoor painting projects; and helping with activities at nursing and assisted living homes. The kids also perform office and practical work for non-profit agencies such as Goodwill, Salvation Army, AEOA, food shelves, Range Center, United Way and Habitat for Humanity. Each child also job-shadows at an area business such as a restaurant, t-shirt design shop, hair salon, newspaper publisher, veterinary clinic, auto repair shop or canoe outfitter. Kids journal their experiences throughout the six weeks and have help in creating a resume.

Chisholm firefighter Dillon Anderson attended SWOP two summers when he was 11 and 12 years old and recalls the experience with great fondness. He was introduced to professions such as banking and law enforcement and performed community service preparing sandwiches for the food shelf and scrubbing century-old gravestones at the cemetery.

“I learned many valuable life lessons through SWOP,” said Anderson. “The program definitely gave me an advantage during job searches as an adult because it is very respected and recognized for work and service in our region. My wife was also a SWOP participant.”

Parents, guardians or youth interested in SWOP should call 218-290-9238 or visit SWOP online. Applications will be available at area schools in the counselor’s office beginning in mid-April and are due on May 1.

Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation supported this project with a Workforce Development grant. For grant information contact Roy Smith at 218-735-3039 or email roy.smith@state.mn.us.

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