Justin Jackson’s internship projects at Charlottesville-based nonprofit Computers4Kids include cybersecurity, hacking and video game programming.
“I’m a hands-on learner,” Jackson, 15, said, stressing that he prefers when project-based learning is adapted into an environment.
This is his third time interning for Computers4Kids, a gig he secured through the Community Attention and Youth Internship Program.
Jackson, a rising Charlottesville High School sophomore and an aspiring video game programmer, said the stipend he receives is rational, especially for the work that he’s doing as a teen. After buying clothes and food, he has “some money left for entertainment,” he said. But, most importantly, he’s getting real-world experiences.
“This is the best place for me based on my interview and what I told them I was interested in,” said Jackson, who plans on attending the University of Southern California. “I told them I was big on technology.”
CAYIP serves as a gateway to getting city residents like Jackson a leg up into their chosen career field. But for county residents, opportunities in the program are slim.
Charlottesville’s interim director of human services, Misty Graves, said 26 county residents couldn’t be admitted into the program due to a lack of money.
Funded by Charlottesville, the nearly 12-year-old program has enough money to accommodate city residents but not county residents, Graves said. The program admits 14- to 21-year-olds and places them with a company that best matches their interests.
Graves said there’s a huge interest in county residents, an influx she noticed this year. Some county residents have been admitted, but that number is disproportionate to city residents, she said.
“We have to take into consideration the residency. … We don’t expect site partners to pay for the stipend because that’s not reasonable for them,” Graves said.
There have been positive conversations with county officials wanting to learn more about CAYIP to increase opportunities for county residents, she said.
The goal is to work something out next year, she said.
Siri Russell, director of the office of equity and inclusion for Albemarle, said when she was first hired, she approached people in the community to learn about the work that they are doing.
Russell learned about the structure of the program, as well as county residents’ interests to participate. She added her office is still exploring ways to support opportunities for county residents, which “could include” CAYIP.
“From what I understand, it appears to be a positive program that is improving access to internship opportunities and strengthen the development of area high school students entering the workforce,” Russell said.
Computers4Kids — which exposes low-income children to science, technology, engineering and math — has been partnering with CAYIP since last summer.
“I send my requirements. I say this is what these kids will be doing,” clubhouse coordinator of Computers4Kids Blair McAvoy said. “I did give them some pretty high standards. … They’ve never sent me a bad fit. I’ve only had top-notch kids from [them].”
McAvoy said her office certainly gets something out the partnership, and it’s important to her that the interns gets an educational experience. For instance, they could learn about what it’s like to work for a tech company.
“This is, to me, the big thing about internships and why a kid might want an internship versus a job because there’s this educational component to it,” McAvoy boasted.
Area children could get a job that might pay them a higher wage, but they might not get the educational opportunities that the internship can provide, McAvoy said.
In addition to Jackson, McAvoy has another intern interested in social media marketing. So, there’s a mentor with expertise in digital marketing assigned to that youth. The same opportunity is offered to other interns.
“I can essentially create a customized internship for every kid,” she said.
‘No prior experience needed’
Jackson agreed the projects he has worked on at CAYIP are brand new. So, his mentors break down the materials for him. He has recommended the program to his peers, saying students without experience can still be successful.
Computers4Kids gave him a flexible schedule as he continues summer classes at the Charlottesville Albemarle Technical Education Center and Piedmont Virginia Community College.
“My tasks here, I don’t want to say they’re simple, but they’re really open,” Jackson said. “My supervisor [McAvoy] will assign me something to do, and I will do it.”
He works 20 hours weekly with mentors who provide guidance to work on projects or create one independently for other youths.
“That’s the best program to join. They’ll put you in the right place,” Jackson said, lauding his mentors for making sure that he succeeds.