Imagine your dream job. Now imagine you could spend the afternoon with someone who has it. That’s exactly what members of the Martha’s Vineyard Youth Leadership Initiative did last week for the second annual job shadow day. They aspire to become green architects, economists, green engineers, doctors, nurses, physical therapists, environmental scientists, farmers and even a small farm lobbyist.

Each February, the National Groundhog Job Shadow Day gives young people a new perspective on their studies through hands-on learning and a one-day mentoring experience. It is a joint effort of America’s Promise-Alliance for Youth, Junior Achievement, and the U.S. Department of Labor. Nationwide, more than one million students and 100,000 businesses participate, and more than 2,000 restaurants and hotels hosted nearly 20,000 students. The Martha’s Vineyard Youth Leadership Initiative’s parent, the Stone Soup Leadership Institute, is a founding partner.

At the end of the day, students and their mentors attended a reception at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital to receive certificates and share their experiences.

“Best day of my life!” declared Jacob Lawrence, who traveled to Boston to shadow Brian Billsback at Pricewaterhouse Coopers. “When I asked a question, I got a 30-minute answer instead of a quick yes or no,” he said. “I am so sure now that I want to be in the financial world.”

Students were paired with a wide variety of mentors.

Sivana Brown Robert Ripley awards
Sivana Brown and mentor Robert Ripley. — Heidi Wild

Sivana Brown worked with Robert Ripley, executive vice president of the Martha’s Vineyard Financial Group, a division of the Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank. Julia Cooper spent the day with Ryan Bushey at South Mountain Co. in West Tisbury. Eva Faber and Andrew Randall did their mentorships with Eric and Molly Glasgow at the Grey Barn in Chilmark. Cerina Gordon worked with Brian Nelson at Nelson Mechanical Engineering.

Some found their match was a perfect fit. “I thought to myself, wow, I know this is for me!” said Ms. Brown.

Others decided this career option might not be for them. “I learned that it’s even harder work than I thought to run a profitable farm, and that is something I’ll have to think about if I ever consider that lifestyle,” said Ms. Faber.

Four members of the youth leadership group are creating a sustainable Vineyard map and 2020 report, a project that began in response to the lack of Vineyard youth involvement in the Martha’s Vineyard Commission’s Island Plan. This spring they will present their work to the selectmen in the town of Tisbury, the first Island town to vote to be a Green Community. The map will also be presented to the All-Island Selectmen and the Rotary Club of Martha’s Vineyard.

It gives us all hope that these future leaders are committed to building a more sustainable world.

In late June the annual Youth Leadership Summit is held when for one week, Island youth work alongside Vineyard community leaders and others to clarify their dreams and develop an action plan to realize them. During the school year they work with the college prep and field trip program and as media interns at MVTV. They serve as representatives to the Massachusetts governor’s youth council and attend national conferences like Bioneers by the Bay. They develop their writing and speaking skills, make presentations at the NAACP’s Juneteenth Conference and at the youth leadership institute’s annual Walter Cronkite awards ceremony.

It’s not always easy to know what we want to become. In today’s economy, young people who have more clarity increase their odds to succeed and get a job.

Bella El-Deiry Rose Styron awards
Bella El-Deiry (left) was matched with Rose Styron. — Heidi Wild

Some expand what’s possible. Last year Emma HallBillsback was matched with Jon Previant at the Farm Institute. After learning about the challenges facing small farmers, she asked to be matched with a small farm lobbyist this year. In early January, she traveled to Boston to work alongside Brad Mitchell, head of government relations for the Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation, where she learned about pending legislation affecting small farmers and met with state Sen. Dan Wolf. She later helped organize an Island farmers’ roundtable, hosted by the Farm Institute.

And some are in just awe — like Bella El-Deiry, who was matched with Rose Stryon, a Vineyard Haven resident and longtime leader for Amnesty International.

“Being matched with Rose Styron was an amazing experience,” she said.

We are grateful to all those who shared their time, talents and resources. Their investment is making a big difference in these young lives.

Marianne Larned is founding director of the Martha’s Vineyard Youth Leadership Initiative and the Stone Leadership Soup Institute.