Access to Independence offering ‘Employment in the Park’ program (Sponsored Content)

Access to Independence logo. (Photo Source: Access to Independence).

Access To Independence of Cortland County, Inc. (ATI) will be holding a free work readiness program for ages 14 to 25 to “build skills to help them get employed,” according to ATI’s skills specialist Michael Eastman.

Known as “Employment in the Park,” the program will be broken into five sessions between this month and September. The sessions will be held at the Rotary Pavilion at Suggett Park in the City of Cortland.

“It’s not a lecture or school by any stretch of the imagination,” said Alexandra Mikowski, ATI’s executive director. “It’s a relaxed atmosphere for folks to learn from each other and to grow as people.”

Alex Mikowski, Executive Director at Access to Independence.

Mikowski said the program is funded by a $5,000 grant that ATI received from the Town of Cortlandville through their American Rescue Plan funds.

“Our hope is to fill that gap where businesses are trying to find staff, but can’t find it,” she said. “They know there are people in the community who really want jobs, but might need a little bit of help to get ready for that (opportunity). With a little bit of polishing, maybe they’re ready to take that next step in their career.”

The dates, times and topics for each session of the program are as follows:

  • Monday, July 25 from 1-2:15 p.m. – Professionalism
  • Monday, Aug. 8 from 1-2:15 p.m. – Communication and Active Listening 
  • Monday, Aug. 22 from 1-2:15 p.m. – Conflict Management
  • Monday, Sept. 12 from 4-5:15 p.m. – Self-Esteem
  • Monday, Sept. 26 from 4-5:15 p.m. – Job Applications and Resumes

“The goal is to help people find a job that works for them and makes them happy,” Mikowski said.

The entire program is limited to 10 spots. To RSVP for the program, contact Eastman at 607-753-7363 or at [email protected] by Wednesday, July 20. If spots are still available after the 20th, the deadline could be extended to Friday, July 22, Mikowski said.

Mikowski mentioned that even though ATI is holding the program, those who don’t identify as having a disability can still sign up for the program.

Food, candy and over $100 in prizes will be given out throughout the program, Mikowski said.

Mikowski noted to those who can’t attend the program or if the 10 spots “fill up right away,” ATI will have the same staff doing workshops at the agency in the near future.

“If this time doesn’t work and you’re not in that age group, you can still reach out to us here at ATI,” she added. To reach ATI, call 607-753-7363 or stop into the agency on 26 N. Main St.

Those looking for jobs can also go to the computer lab at ATI, Mikowski said.

What “Employment in the Park” Provides For Participants

Mikowski noted the reason for the 14-to-25 age range for the program is due to “a time where a little bit of help and mentorship can go a long way.”

“You start thinking about what life could be like as a teenager and growing up,” she said.

Eastman said the age range was chosen based on the eerily similar ages for high school and college students.

“They don’t get their first job until they leave college. Some kids work repeatedly through college as well,” he said. “To learn and educate yourself is something you should always do and should always strive to have.”

Michael Eastman, Skills Specialist at Access to Independence.

Mikowski added, “We also know that people in that age group are trying different jobs, or different things they’re passionate about, so this is a good opportunity to look at that.”

For those who don’t go to college, there is “a world of opportunities for you out there” as well, Eastman said.

“Going to college is not the only path. There are many paths you can take,” he said. “What I’m going to do is hopefully help them help themselves walk through each of these subjects. People don’t always look at self-esteem and say ‘well how does that impact my job or communication?’”

Eastman noted the subjects and topics of each session of the program “connect in a way that not only improves somebody who is going through the steps of employment, but also goes through their daily lives.”

If there’s a business looking for employees, Mikowski said, they should think about hiring people with disabilities.

“Part of our whole reason for existing is because people with disabilities deserve to have equal access. There’s a lot of people who want to further use their skills that need a little hand up,” she said, noting that on average, people with disabilities “stay longer in positions than people who don’t identify as having a disability.”

“We all learn from each other. We all have different perspectives and all have different ways to work with things,” Eastman said.

Details on topics of the “Employment in the Park” program

Mikowski and Eastman provided details and their thoughts on topics for each of the sessions of the program.

– Professionalism

Mikowski: “That is one of the big things. You can have all of the skills you need in order to do a job, but if you don’t know how to learn the work culture you’re going into, you can set yourself up for failure really easily. You have to figure out how to navigate certain things and what topics you talk about at work. People get into a lot of trouble because there are certain topics that might be fine with your friends, but not so fine when it comes to work. This is for people who are ready with the skills of how to actually do the job and deal with co-workers.” 

Eastman: “It helps maintain longevity.”

– Communication and Active Listening

Eastman: “People don’t talk with their voice. They talk with their eyes and facial expressions and body movements. What do you do when someone doesn’t look you in the eyes when they talk to you? Do we know why they don’t do that? What’s the response that should be given to that? It’s the give-and-take and important for an employee to communicate effectively. If your job involves speaking to customers, you’ve got to speak to them in a way where you and the customer are ok with it. Activities involved (in this subject) will break all of that down.”

Conflict Management

Eastman: “For customer service, there’s a lot of conflict in that (type of business). We’ve seen the videos and have all read the articles. Conflict management is a way of dealing with conflict in a manner that can be beneficial that’s both in and outside of a job.”


Eastman: “People break down self-esteem in many different ways, but it’s not about how you see yourself, but also about how others see you. It’s about confidence and understanding that situations happen. You may not have control, but it may impact your life and not any lesser and others aren’t necessarily any greater. It’s a way to provide people with the understanding that you are meaningful.”

Mikowski: “When you run into a challenge and get disappointed, how do you not beat yourself up and ask for help? Trying to navigate (through situations) that doesn’t shut you down for the day.”

– Job Applications and Resume

Eastman: “People think that’s a boring topic. I think of it as a challenge because a lot of people don’t realize you lose more than one type of job. It’s basically ‘Why don’t you focus on what I do versus where I’ve been?’ Some jobs want to see where you’ve been because that’s more important. For an interview, what do you wear or what do you say? How do you address people? One word or phrase might turn somebody off interviewing you, or the opposite might be ‘You’ve got the job right now.’ There are really important skills that people take for granted or overlook.”

All Are Welcome

Eastman said those who already have a job can still sign up for the program.

“If they’re already employed, this could maybe help them get a better job, or just to improve their overall employment,” he said.

Mikowski said the program will strive to help people “bring out the best in themselves.”

“We’re not telling people this is the only way to do it, but more talking through it and through situations,” she said. “Employees having those soft skills to work through problems with some integrity and bring up challenges is why I hire and keep people.”