Teens gain experience with summer jobs program

CONYERS - Donnette Duggan said she wanted to work in a beauty salon, but was shy and felt she could not work with the public, while Dannielle Brown said she found her life's calling working with developmentally-challenged individuals this summer.

Both young women are working in Rockdale County's Summer Jobs for Youth program and said the experience was a great first step in their lives as they enter the work force.

The program, funded by a $200,000 grant through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, concludes this week. For the last month, more than 200 local youth and young adults were assigned to work at 100 work sites across the county in government and private sectors.

Duggan, a young woman who has two months left at Georgia Career Institute, spent her time at Antoine's Style of Perfection on Sigman Road where she worked mostly to greet customers.

"It really helped me develop my people skills in that I had to work with the public, something that I never had to do before," Duggan said. "There's a lot of personalities out there, and I had to learn how to deal with that."

Brown was assigned to work at Our Place, operated by Rockdale Cares as a the training and day workshop for developmentally-challenged individuals. The Heritage High School senior described her the experience as life-changing and said she wants to be a teacher in the same field.

"I didn't know what to expect, but I love it now," she said. "We helped people to socialize in public settings, like what you need to do in a grocery store or going to the theaters to see a movie. There are people there in different age groups, so you set goals for each person and help them reach those goals."

Organizers of the program had said the goal was to introduce young people to work experience, many for the first time in their lives. The program targeted individuals in low-income households, current and former foster children, and those with disabilities.

Along with work experience and a paycheck, the program also required participant to receive life skills training in personal finance, interviewing and job skills and communication skills. Officials with the Atlanta Regional Atlanta Regional Workforce Board, the lead agency of the summer job programs in metro Atlanta, said Rockdale was unique in being the only county to require the training sessions.

Evelyn Cooksey, executive director of Ceek to Fulfill, and one of two coordinators of Rockdale's summer job program, said the satisfaction for her comes from seeing it click in the participants minds to work and understand the importance of managing money.

"It's been great seeing a lot of these kids grow and blossom," Cooksey said.

Organizers said there had been some rough patches with the program, but quickly noted this was the first of its kind ever in Rockdale County. Younger participants, 14- and 15-year-olds, had a different perspective on work than older participant was noted.

But of the 200 or so participant, only two quit their jobs. "With that, it was a success," said Claire Cline, United Way's area director for Rockdale County and a facilitator of the program.

Rockdale County obtained the grant through an initiative brought by County Commission Chairman Richard Oden earlier this year. Oden said he was pleased with the program and wanted to see the program continue next year.

However, the grant was for one time and funding beyond this summer is uncertain. The county will likely seek another grant, but Oden has also called on local businesses to contribute to fund the program.