Scott Phillips has been working with housing insecure youth in Washtenaw County since 2007, first at Avalon Housing and now as the Youth Employment Coordinator at Ozone House in Ypsilanti.
What do you do as youth employment coordinator?
I work at our drop-in center in Ypsilanti, and I oversee our work zone program and our student outreach program… In our work zone program, we offer two weeks of paid employment soft skill training, like interview prep, resume writing, and conflict resolution in the workplace. Participants are paid $100 for completing the training and are placed with one of our community partners in an internship for one hundred hours of work experience, paid by Ozone House. For a lot of our young people, that’s their first job, and my role is to help support them through that.
Why do you believe this work is important? It’s important because we aren’t listening to young people enough. When our younger generation is falling through the cracks, not being treated the way they deserve to be treated, that impacts a whole community, and it falls on all of our shoulders… For me, it came full circle, because our community partners now are the same people who were supervising me when I was seventeen doing my community service at Food Gatherers.
What factors can make young people fall through the cracks? There are a lot of factors. What we know about young people is that they are strong and resilient. We also know that environment has a huge impact on development, processing, experiencing trauma… At Ozone House, our main focus is working with young people who are facing homelessness or who are running away, or are at risk for those things. A lot of families have minimal resources to support young people, so they’re out at a young age, without a lot of skills at that point to navigate the world. So a lot of what we see is behavior that’s an outward expression of needs that aren’t being met in their lives, and so we’re trying to constantly identify what those needs are and helping people to have those needs met.
What’s the most challenging aspect of working with young people? We’re youth-centered and allow youth to make mistakes, but my biggest fear is when young people who have great dreams for their lives make unsafe decisions that get in the way of them reaching that goal. We also know it takes time for young people to develop these skills and to learn.
What are your big dreams for Ozone House? We work so much in the moment, and we don’t always get the opportunity to think long-term. I would love the agency to grow and continue to be a staple in the community, to continue to support youth on a larger scale. And I always joke with my bosses about this, if we get the opportunity to have a bigger drop-in space with a basketball court, that would be awesome.
What do you love about doing this work? It’s very motivating and empowering to see people who are creative at coming up with solutions and problem-solving to make sure young people in the community are getting their needs met. Our staff is taking calls in the middle of the night, taking calls all weekend long. The work doesn’t end when you go home.