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Summer program to give 150 jobs

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Some 150 Jefferson County youths will go to work this summer across 80 job sites with the help of nearly $474,000 in state and federal grant funding.

Applications are still being accepted for the annual six-week summer work program, which is administered through the Workplace, 1000 Coffeen St., and aims to teach participants important life and work skills and orient them toward educational options that will help them meet their career goals, said Cheryl A. Mayforth, executive director of the Workplace.

This year, the program will run from July 1 to mid-August.

The program traces its roots back to the Works Progress Administration created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s.

Since that time it has moved through many iterations and has received funding through various federal and state initiatives before reaching its current form.

Today, the program is administered partially through the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance and partially through the federal Workforce Investment Act.

Eligibility for the program is based on age and family income.

Youths ages 14 to 20, whose families are recipients of public assistance or have a family income below 200 percent of the federal poverty level — $38,180 for a family of three — are eligible.

Funding has shifted in various ways since the program’s most recent incarnation, with federal funds generally on the decline since the early 2000s. This year, however, federal funding has increased by $9,000 and state funding has decreased by $4,000.

While those amounts may seem like mere drops in the bucket, $4,000 can mean the exclusion of one participant, Ms. Mayforth said.

Participants in the program have an opportunity to work at a variety of jobs, from cutting grass at area cemeteries to working in the district attorney’s office for the summer, and involve private businesses, manufacturing companies, nonprofit organizations and municipal governments.

As part of the program, those who are hired will participate in workshops on basic financial management, interviewing and resume-writing skills.

The program generally tries to place participants in their fields of interest.

“Some kids have found their life’s ambition. Some have also discovered things they don’t like,” Ms. Mayforth said.

In years past, different versions of the program have employed as many as 500 youth workers during the summer.

Jay M. Whitney, the employment and training fiscal manager at the Workplace, participated in the program for seven years. He worked as a maintenance aide, a groundskeeper’s aide and a janitorial assistant.

Mr. Whitney said he still reflects on his experience, even though it is now 30 years in the past.

“You learn to work hard, earn your pay and not just show up for a paycheck,” he said.

Though participants’ wages are paid through the program administrator, they do have to interview for their positions at the organization where they will work.

“All hiring decisions are made by the work site,” Mr. Whitney said.

Though participants are supervised by a staff of five counselors who are required to make site visits every week, the program tries to replicate as closely as possible the experience of working at a regular job.

“These are not entitlement programs. They are work experience programs,” Ms. Mayforth said.

Participants who consistently show up late or otherwise fail to meet the requirements of the job can be fired.

For the business, it’s free labor for the summer, though there is an amount of increased supervision required, given the age of the temporary employees.

Most employers “do try to understand that it’s an employment training program,” Mr. Whitney said.

This likely will be the last summer that the program is administered under the $7.25 an hour minimum wage, Ms. Mayforth said.

With the minimum wage in New York state set to rise to $9 an hour by the end of 2015, the program likely will shrink in the number of participants unless funding increases.

In lieu of a program party, for which there is no funding, participants work at the Jefferson County Office for the Aging annual picnic at Westcott Beach State Park in late July.

They serve lunch, dance with picnic-goers and run the door prizes. It’s a long day for the program participants, who are on the job from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., but they “come back with a good experience,” Ms. Mayforth said.

“They don’t really see it as work; they see it as fun,” she said.

And the program administrators get a kick out of seeing the relationships between the generations.

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