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Summer jobs: putting Jefferson County youth to work gaining experience

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Micaiah M. Bradley, 16, and Michael E. Lampman, 17, are still in high school but already they’re an integral part of the Jefferson County workforce.

Ms. Bradley works from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. as a clerical aid at Credo Community Center on Main Street in Watertown and Mr. Lampman works from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Hi-Lite Markings, Inc. shop on Route 12F near Floral Drive.

Both are employed through New York state’s Summer Youth Employment Program, administered in Jefferson and Lewis counties through the Jeff-Lewis Workplace, 1000 Coffeen St.

This summer, the program has employed 137 youths across 78 work sites in Jefferson County and 34 youths across 29 work sites in Lewis County with the help of nearly $474,000 in state and federal grant funding, helping to give participants from low-income families a leg up on employment opportunities.

Program participants are paid the minimum wage — $7.25 an hour — and are eligible to participate if they are between the ages of 14 and 21 and come from families who receive public assistance or have an income below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, which is $38,180 for a family of three.

This year the Workplace had more than 400 applications for the 137 jobs available in Jefferson County, according to Cheryl M. Mayforth, executive director of the Workplace.

Participants come from a diverse set of backgrounds and work at a wide variety of jobs in the county, ranging from clerical work in the district attorney’s office to landscaping work in local cemeteries, Mrs. Mayforth said.

The program tries to match participants with jobs in fields where they have an interest.

After working as defense counsel during a mock trial in her eighth-grade year, Ms. Bradley, who attends Watertown High School, said she developed an abiding interest in the legal profession.

With ambitions to attend law school after graduating from college, she is saving up the wages she earns this summer for Jefferson Community College EDGE classes — college classes taught in high school classrooms — as well as school clothes and supplies.

Now in her second year of the program, Ms. Bradley said that it has given her excellent experience working in an office setting.

“I love it. It’s such a great working environment ... I’ve learned a lot ... I think it provides a lot of opportunity,” Ms. Bradley said. “It’s better than sitting at home and sleeping all day. I get to do things I enjoy and make money.”

Ms. Bradley said she will spend that money on calculus 2, Spanish 5, statistics and economics courses.

Mr. Lampman, who attends South Jefferson High School, Adams, is saving his earnings for a Ford pickup truck, something he said will come in handy where he lives.

With his eye turned toward entering the workforce after graduating high school and enlisting in the U.S. Army, Mr. Lampman is well on his way to making his plans a reality, especially considering he already blends into the environment of the shop so well.

Mr. Lampman helps to clean the shop floor, offices and trucks at the Hi-Lite building.

He said he is treated like “just another guy” at the shop and gets to hang out and joke around with the permanent employees.

“It keeps it interesting,” he said.

“It’s great to know they respect you like that,” said Michael A. Iannetta, 34, Mr. Lampman’s counselor.

Mr. Ianetta, who teaches first grade at Indian River Central School District during the academic year, said Mr. Lampman is a “great participant.”

“He does a great job. His supervisor said he never has to tell him twice to do something. He seems like an actual employee,” Mr. Ianetta said.

Mr. Ianetta is part of a team of five counselors who supervises the program participants.

Counselors are paid $14.47 an hour and must have earned at least 60 college credits. Applicants have usually completed their sophomore year of college.

“They are highly sought after positions,” Mrs. Mayforth said.

The team also includes Kari C. Kranz, 21, and Andrew A. Jones, 23.

Ms. Kranz, who grew up in Pulaski, is entering her senior year at SUNY Oswego and Mr. Jones, who is from Adams and graduated from South Jefferson High School, just graduated from Houghton College in Allegany County.

Both Ms. Kranz and Mr. Jones said that though the job can be demanding, they take great satisfaction in seeing their charges do well.

“The greatest satisfaction is to actually see these kids succeed, especially when they’ve tried something new and it was uncomfortable at first but then they got the hang of it,” Mr. Jones said.

The program also includes training in basic financial management, interviewing and resume-writing skills.

Because the program is designed to replicate as closely as possible the experience of working at a regular job, participants who consistently show up late or otherwise fail to meet the requirements of the job can be fired.

It is one of the many difficult situations that can arise during the summer.

Different home environments bring different problems, including lack of clothing, food and even hygiene issues.

“You deal with them as they come along. That’s part of the experience of being a counselor,” Ms. Kranz said.

The Summer Youth Employment Program can trace its roots back to the Works Progress Administration created by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1930s. Though it has changed significantly in the ensuing years, the same basic ethos applies: put people to work.

“We’re trying to break the need for individuals to be on public assistance and move them toward self-sufficiency,” Mrs. Mayforth said.

At one time, an antecedent of the program hired as many as 500 youths for the summer, according to Mrs. Mayforth.

The program has steadily shrunk in size over the years as funding has dried up and other restrictions have come into play.

With minimum wages set to go to $9 by the end of 2015, Mrs. Mayforth said the program will continue to diminish in size unless funding increases.

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