After working in the financial services industry for 30 years, Glenwood Landing resident Thomas Cerna wasn’t thrilled with his line of work. When he reflected on the odd jobs he’d performed as a teenager, he thought it would be important to share these experiences with young people.
In 2014, he founded Youthire America, a nonprofit organization that helps local homeowners connect with teenagers and young adults from Sea Cliff, Glen Head, Glenwood Landing and Glen Cove to do odd jobs.
“I wanted to make it into something that was more of a central hub that somebody can come to where they can choose from a lot of different odd job opportunities,” Cerna explained.
His website, www.youthire.org, has attracted nearly 270 homeowners and local businesses, along with 230 potential workers, in the North Shore community. Focusing on those ages 16 to 26, Cerna said he is now committed to providing even more work opportunities for teenagers and young adults.
“I think it’s important at this point in their lives to get an idea of what drives them, what motivates them, and finding out what’s their true passion in life,” he said. “I also think it’s important at a young age to get your hands dirty and to do some gritty work, which gives you an appreciation for the work ethic, knowing that it’s not all going to come easy.”
On the website, those interested in work create their own profile pages, listing information about themselves, including school activities and skills that they have or would like to learn. Homeowners who live nearby can post job opportunities, and qualified potential workers are alerted by email about the postings. Additionally, Cerna’s website does background checks on both students and homeowners.
Since the site’s launch, he has partnered with the North Shore School District and has affiliations with Stony Brook University, Long Island University and New York Institute of Technology.
“A big part of working with Youthire was talking to people, understanding how to promote yourself and learning how to keep up with people I worked for while trying to find more jobs,” said Jonathan Swett, of Sea Cliff.
Swett, 17, a freshman at the University of New Hampshire, has done a variety of odd jobs, including yard work, painting, plastering, plumbing, electrical and furniture assembly. Working with Youthire motivated him to seek more job opportunities.
“I developed this great skill set of using tools and doing repair work because of Youthire,” he said. “This is a great program for any young person that’s looking for work.”
Tracy Warzer, of Sea Cliff, has posted jobs on Youthire for over a year. Most students have been “polite, punctual and responsible,” she said, but her most memorable experience came earlier this year when she met Dorian Munaco, a 17-year-old Boy Scout from Troop 195, who helped her organize a garage sale.
Warzer’s nephews were former Eagle Scouts in Munaco’s troop. After she learned more about him, she helped out with his Eagle project, which involved seniors at the Amsterdam at Harborside, an assisted-living home. Warzer works there, helping to connect young children with older adults. She encouraged Munaco to do his project there.
“We didn’t have any visuals to acknowledge our veterans, so Dorian designed a wall featuring photos of the vets in uniform and copies of articles about them,” Warzer said.
Munaco and the Boy Scouts later hosted a bake sale, where children met with veterans who shared their stories. Warzer described it as a heartwarming moment.
“I would have never known that kids like Dorian were out there had it not been for Youthire,” Warzer said. “The veterans felt honored to tell their stories to today’s generation, so that’s what made this experience really meaningful.”
Skills for a lifetime
Julie Micko, an 18-year-old resident of Glen Cove who has done odd jobs for Youthire since 2016, explained that she has learned several “people skills” through the program, including communicating with others and acting professionally.
“Sometimes, you don’t have time to get comfortable with the people you’re working for,” Micko said. “You have to make good first impressions as soon as you meet them, because they also might set up a real job for you outside of Youthire.”
“These are the kinds of kids who want to work and want to give back to their community,” Cerna said. “Even though they’re doing low-skilled jobs, it instills in them a sense of accomplishment and achievement, which provides corollary benefits that prepare you for life after school.”
He said he believed that Youthire could be a tool to help the North Shore Schools community in its fight against substance abuse. “If you’re idle, or if you’re not doing something that’s productive, you might fall into a bad situation,” he said. “The interaction between the child and the homeowner instills in them a sense of purpose and satisfaction. Not that Youthire would be the end-all to solve this problem, but maybe it could be of some help.”
As Cerna’s organization continues to expand, he said he hopes the program will also boost students’ self-esteem. “When they’re doing something that makes them feel good,” he said, “they’ll be more willing to do something that’s good for the community as well.”