Helping young adults grow up to be successful

Naugatuck Youth Services offers a Summer Lounge program that allows children to have fun with summer employees at their office building on Scott Street in Naugatuck. Annabelle Pape Republican-America

By Annabelle Pape Republican-American

NAUGATUCK — Watching young adults grow into successful professionals has always been a goal of Gina Valerio of Prospect, the assistant director of Naugatuck Youth Services, a safe and substance-free environment for local youth.

The goal is to “provide youths first job experiences. For many, this is their first job where they build employment skills, basic life skills, financial and advising skills in a welcoming environment,” Valerio said.

Established in 2014, the nonprofit was designed to create an environment for children between ages 14 and 21 to launch their professional careers with local businesses while building strong character skills.

Valerio has been a part of the program for the past four years and says she loves keeping those strong relationships because she gets to see the kids learn through their mentors and even get hired after the program.

Naugatuck Youth Services Assistant Director Gina Valerio picks cucumbers from the community garden built by a former summer youth employee outside of the NYS building. The garden features tomatoes, peas, peppers and flowers. Annabelle Pape Republican-American

This year, 48 summer youth employees were given the opportunity to gain experience and give back to the community while building lifelong skills for their personal lives and future careers. Summer employees work about 120 hours during the six-week program.

These leadership roles can develop into future career opportunities.

Naugatuck native Holly Santos, part of the NYS Summer Lounge program since eighth grade, was hired as a summer youth employee at age 17. She started teaching suicide-prevention training and Zoom programs three years ago.

Santos will be returning to Castleton University in Vermont, where she is pursuing a psychology degree and hopes to become a crisis counselor.

Her experience at NYS “has really guided me and navigated me toward what I would like to do after college,” Santos said. “It’s really cool that I’m able to use all of these skills that I’ve learned here, and take them to college and even after college.”