Working-class heroes

A unique approach to getting kids interested in the trades.


The Island community needs professionals with all kinds of education and training to make it a special place to live, and to function well. One nonprofit, MVYouth, is focused on all types of young people, including those not headed to college or those who tried college and realized it wasn’t for them. The organization supports young people interested in pursuing careers in high-demand, high-wage, year-round employment on the Island in several ways, including training scholarships and connections to established and successful Vineyard businesses.

Lindsey Scott, MVYouth director, says “Compared to the support students on the college path receive, there is not much career counselling or money for these young people, despite an abundance of jobs in these careers on the Island.” In response, MVYouth created a Workforce Development (WFD) Program to provide “last dollar” funding to those interested in pursuing technical training, certification and licensure in the trades. Students from MVRHS, the MV Public Charter School and Falmouth Academy, as well as young people through age 25 are eligible. 

Now in its fourth year, the WFD Program sees applications from about 20 young people each year. Associate principal and Career Technical Education (CTE) coordinator at MVRHS Barbara-jean Chauvin says, “We really want to foster a culture of using our own talent pool to grow our local economy.” 

Scott specifically wants to engage local businesses to act as mentors and sponsor internships as part of the MVRHS CTE program. A recent installation at MVRHS features posters of nine successful Vineyard business owners and service providers in a community portrait series. The posters celebrate the many career options available to young people on the Vineyard, and illuminate the variety of paths that can be taken to success. “We hope the portraits and timelines will encourage more high school graduates to pursue careers that offer stable and lucrative opportunities for young people on MV, especially for those not interested in a four-year college path,” Scott said. 

The portrait subjects were chosen to reflect the CTE programs offered at MVRHS, including automotive technology, carpentry, culinary arts, health assisting, horticulture, and maritime sciences. All nine subjects attended MVRHS and seven now own successful businesses on the Island. The subjects include Bea Whiting (registered nurse), Jarret Brissette (electrical contractor), Jenik Khelalfa (baker/restaurant owner), Jason Napior (general contractor), Emma Green-Beach (biologist), Josh Scott (arborist), Andrea Della Russo (automotive technician), John Keene (excavation contractor), and Spike Smith (plumbing and heating contractor). The portraits can be viewed

The ultimate goal for these businesses is to attract, hire, and retain staff, and that means the pipeline of newly trained youth must be created and nurtured. South Mountain Company’s director of production Newell Isbell-Shinn says, “One of our apprentice carpenters, Ryan O’Malley, used the Workforce Development scholarship to do a certificate in woodworking, gaining valuable classroom instruction as a supplement to his on-the-job training at work.” Shannon Levesque, currently attending the Massachusetts Maritime Academy as an Emergency Management major, says without MVYouth, “I wouldn’t have been able to pursue my true love for law enforcement.” 

individuals interested in applying for financial support in pursuing training in the trades can find more information at Like their more established college support program, the WFD program offers an online application process and describes the selection process in detail. The website states that “Based on merit and need, financial support will be awarded and continue for the duration of the education or professional development.” Specific evaluation criteria include: year-round residency on Martha’s Vineyard, financial need, academic transcripts, employment experience and goals, character, and recommendations.

In addition to being funded by its 68 founding donors who pledge $25,000 annually for four years, MVYouth has asked local businesses to join them by pledging $1,000 a year for four years to specifically support the WDS budget and initiatives. Twenty local businesses have already signed on and others interested in supporting the program are encouraged to contact Lindsey Scott at