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YOU Participants Remind Us of the Reason for the Season

A group of YOU participants and their mentor truly got into the spirit of giving this holiday season. Debra James is a career coach at YOU, but lately her job has taken a more creative turn. Under James’ watch, Jobs for Michigan Graduates and Young Adult Program participants have been crafting candles, wreaths, and other small goods and selling them for a few dollars – but what they do with the money is quite special.

“Every time we reach $50, we donate the money to a local charity of the student’s choosing.” James said.

The last time they reached their goal, the students chose the chocolatier Confections with Convictions.

“Even though it’s technically not a non-profit organization, one participant presented a strong case for voting for them,” James explained.

That participant was Cheyenne McMillon who is enrolled in YOU’s Jobs for Michigan Graduates program. She visited Convections with Convictions after hearing its message on the radio.

“After going there, I was sold on their character, charm and chocolate,” McMillon said. “I've been through a lot, and they help people facing the same types of disadvantages as me and some of my peers in the programs at YOU.”

When James took the money to shop owner Dale Anderson, he was touched.

Anderson explained that he keeps an emergency fund for his workers that is used when they are short on rent or other bills. He is going to put the donated craft money toward the fund.

“I felt a natural draw to see the people at Convections with Convictions succeed because they look out for people like me,” McMillon said. “And without the support I've received from programs in my community, I'm not sure how I would have guided myself to the point I'm at now. YOU has done amazing things for me, and I feel much more confident in the workplace, academically and as a person through their support.”

The group’s latest craft project consisted of fashioning mini wreath door hangers made of bells and ribbon. James plans to donate the hangers to Bickford Assisted Living of Battle Creek, as the residents like to display festive items on the outside of their doors.

“We have a crazy amount of fun making them!” McMillon said. “I think my favorite part is figuring out how to make them together. Most of us are inexperienced, but it seems like that only makes the crafts more special and unique — handcrafted and made with love, you know?

Knowing that we keep proceeds local just makes our community stronger, and what can be more important than that in these times?”

These youth and their mentor are shining examples of the reason for the season.

YOU is a career pathway organization providing young people in Southwest Michigan with academic enrichment, job training and workforce readiness opportunities designed to enhance individual and community-wide prosperity. Learn more by visiting