Teen finds new opportunity at senior center

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Jessica Rodriguez of Naugatuck breaks during a game of pool with, from left, Dianne Conway of Naugatuck, Sharon Fox of Beacon Falls and volunteer Sheyen Cruz of Florida at the Naugatuck Senior Center July 20. Rodriquez got a summer job at the senior center through the New Opportunities program. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

NAUGATUCK — On any given weekday, visitors to the Naugatuck Senior Center will see the center’s youngest current summer employee bustling around the office, straightening up the center and chatting with seniors.

While many of her peers are relaxing during their summer vacations, 15-year-old Jessica Rodriguez is hard at work at the senior center thanks to New Opportunities, a program that offers assistance and provides jobs for young adults.

“I couldn’t ask for a better first job,” Rodriguez said. “I like it so far.”

As an incoming sophomore at Naugatuck High School, Rodriguez applied for a summer job with New Opportunities at school and said she was glad to have been hired.

The New Opportunities program aims to “improve the quality of life for economically disadvantaged individuals by providing the necessary resources to increase their standard of living, foster self-improvement and maximize self-empowerment,” according to the program’s website.

With the money she earns, Rodriguez plans to will new school clothes, school supplies and other necessities.

Harvey Leon Frydman, the director of the Naugatuck Senior Center, said Rodriguez has already made a positive impact at the center.

“This is a very active place and we’re glad to have teenagers around,” Frydman said. “The seniors have fallen in love with Jessica and she’s only been here two weeks.”

Staff at New Opportunities originally assigned Rodriguez to help with maintenance at Naugatuck High School but reassigned her to the senior center because they decided her friendly and outgoing personality makes her an ideal person to work with seniors.

“This is much better,” Rodriguez said of her position at the senior center. “I probably would have been cleaning out the garage at the high school.”

Rodriguez helps with the general upkeep of the senior center, performing tasks like watering plants, organizing shelves and answering phones in the office. She also enjoys the quiet moments at the center when she is able mingle with the seniors and play games like pool with them.

Jessica Rodriguez of Naugatuck, center, shares a laugh with Martha Espin, left of Naugatuck and volunteer Sheyen Cruz of Florida during a game of pool at the Naugatuck Senior Center July 20. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

“The seniors are so nice,” said Rodriguez, who pointed out she was wearing a necklace and earrings that a senior had made for her.

The money Rodriguez earns this summer working Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. will also help offset any school-related costs.

At school, Rodriguez is an avid participant of the Naugatuck Air Force Junior ROTC, a program at the high school where members learn about the military, take on leadership positions and practice drill for competitions. She hopes to one day be a nurse in the military.

The senior center accepts young workers from New Opportunities each year and Frydman said he believes the program offers good experiences for both the workers and the seniors.

“We’re very pleased and very excited to be part of New Opportunities,” Frydman said. “It’s a good program for young adults and a wonderful learning experience.”