December 20, 2014

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Federal program boosts youths’ job skills

Cole McCall, left, and Chris Vejesus, seniors at Lorain High, clean Streator Park in Lorain on July 31. They are working with the Lorain County Job and Family Services Ohio Means Jobs program. Steve Manheim

Cole McCall, left, and Chris Vejesus, seniors at Lorain High, clean Streator Park in Lorain on Thursday. They are working with the Lorain County Job and Family Services Ohio Means Jobs program. STEVE MANHEIM/CHRONICLE

LORAIN — When they found an overturned trash can at Streator Park in Lorain on Thursday, Christopher DeJesus and Cole McCall were quick to clean up the mess.

The teenagers are part of a federally-funded summer jobs program that supporters say is helping young people develop work skills and supplement understaffed city departments. Five youths are working for the Department of Building, Housing and Planning, and three are working for the Public Property Department — often referred to as the Street Department. It consists of the cemetery, parks and recreation and street divisions.

The parks and recreation division has five-full-time and 12 seasonal employees, said Streets Superintendent Lori Garcia. Their responsibilities include Lorain’s 56 parks. She said the parks need extra maintenance in the summer due to high grass and softball games.

Cole McCall, left, and Chris Vejesus pick up trash at Streator Park in Lorain.

Cole McCall, left, and Chris Vejesus pick up trash at Streator Park in Lorain.

The work done by youths like Christoper and Cole frees full-time workers to do bigger projects. “It helps us to know all those things are taken care of,” Garcia said.

At Building, Housing and Planning, youths’ duties include data entry and filing, said Leon Mason, deputy safety service director for community programs and affairs. “The program is the epitome of providing a hand up, not a handout, for the county and city’s youth.” Mason wrote in a Thursday email.

Councilman Dennis Flores, D-2nd Ward, agreed. Flores supervises youths like Christopher and Cole and worked with them Thursday. He said in addition to developing good work habits, the jobs instill a sense of neighborhood pride.

“I’ve noticed the change,” he said. “They see the results of them cleaning up.”

Christopher and Cole, both 17, said they aren’t bothered by the early hours — work begins at 8:30 a.m. They also don’t mind the heat, and earn $8.95 per hour. DeJesus worked in the program last year. This is the first year for Cole.

DeJesus, whose family is moving to St. Petersburg, Fla., this week, said the money he earns will help with the move. He said the wider variety of tasks this year has made the work more interesting than last year and given him landscaping experience. Both youths said working has made them feel better about themselves.

“You really don’t know how it is until you do it,” Cole said. “To me, it’s a lot like school. I just wake up, put my clothes on and go to work.”

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 oregoodenow@chroniclet.com. Follow him on Twitter at @egoodenowct.

Jobs Program

  • The youth summer jobs program in Lorain County is designed to help low-income youths make money, gain job skills and build resumes.
  • The program runs May 1 to Oct. 31, although counties may shorten the time.
  • The program is paid for with federal taxpayer grant money from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services and the Lorain County Workforce Development Agency.
  • Lorain County received at least $826,597 this year and is employing about 265 youths.
  • The program is available for people between age 14 and 24. Participants are eligible if they or their family earn 200 percent of the annual federal poverty guideline or less. This year’s individual threshold is $11,670. For a family of four, it is $23,850.
  • Participants can earn up to $10 per hour and work a variety of jobs with businesses and government agencies.

SOURCES: HHS, Ohio Department of Job and Family Services