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Huron County program provides summer jobs for teens

Annie Zelm • Jun 28, 2010 at 8:07 AM


Be on time. Avoid black shirts when working in the heat. Wear sunscreen.

A few days into their summer jobs, dozens of area teens have already learned a thing or two about the daily grind.

While their peers are baby-sitting, playing sports or hanging around the house, these teens wake up early five days a week and punch the clock. The teenagers are part of a work program administered by Job and Family Services and funded by the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

In Norwalk, 14 of the teens will do a variety of jobs, including mowing lawns, painting and working at the city's recreation center.

On Friday three teens stationed at the water and wastewater treatment plants for the summer used gloved hands to tug at unruly weeds in a basin where excess water pools during storms.

"It's all work that has to be done," water superintendent Bill Albrecht said. "We're pretty short-staffed here at the water plant, and this really helps with the workload."

As Chelsea Powers, 18, struggled with a tough, thorny weed that crept up past her waist, she turned to her co-worker for help.

"Gimme your muscles," she told Bellevue sophomore Kyle Logan, 16. "We make Kyle do the heavy stuff," she said with a grin.

Logan is used to physical labor -- he's baled straw before, but this is his first job with a steady paycheck. He plans to save his cash to buy a car.

For Powers, the job is a step toward independence as she works to rent her first apartment. With a 5-month-old son and plans to attend college, money is tight.

As the teens adapt to their jobs -- a first for many of them -- there's a bit of a learning curve, said Lynden Ramsey, supervisor at the parks and recreation department where about half a dozen teens are working for the summer.

"We're learning to be patient, understand this is a new experience for them," Ramsey said. "They have to learn what's expected in a work experience."

Norwalk Mayor Sue Lesch said the program is "really a win-win" for the community.

"In these tough economic times, there are so many unemployed adults taking the jobs kids were after," she said.

The teens also provide much-needed labor at no cost to the city, which has reduced its workforce to make ends meet. There's plenty of work to go around, so the teens aren't taking away any hours from regular employees.

Norwalk has 14 teen workers for the summer, but a total of about 70 are employed throughout Huron County, said Trista Piccola, Huron County Job and Family Services' program administrator. To participate, their families have to earn a total household income at or below 200 percent of federal poverty guidelines -- $44,100 for a family of four.

The federal program fully reimburses the local agencies and 22 businesses participating in the program, covering the cost of the teens' salaries. As an incentive for participating, the local Job and Family Services department also chose to pay the workplaces a $750 stipend for each employee they hired.

At the end of the summer, the teens take away extra cash and valuable life lessons on holding down a job. Many will also get a first-hand glimpse at the workings of city government.

"We chose to focus on the 15 to 18 group, to get them some initial work experience and show them what it's like to be in the world of work," Piccola said. "Some may have parents laid off, so the contribution they can make can be very helpful."

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