Funds from the economic stimulus package have trickled down to Newton County and provided Washington Street Community Center with the ability to supply the county with more than 100 teen workers this summer.
According to the center’s director Bea Jackson, the idea of the program which is provided by the Northeast Georgia Regional Development Center, is to help keep children in school and to keep their minds constantly turning even throughout the lazy summer days.
Newton County participates in the Workforce Investment Act throughout the year. The act provides after-school care and programs during the school year, but with the extra monies provided by the stimulus package the center was able to open the program to several more teens and provide them with jobs this summer – in government and non-profit sectors.
"Our summer teen program always served a small amount of children," said Jackson. "But it has gone from 20 or so to 125 youths being served this year."
There are stipulations on the fund. Students must be between the ages of 14 and 24, work in government or non-profit agencies and meet a financial requirement in order to be eligible for the program. Many of the older students were able to obtain jobs in outside companies, such as the cities of Covington, Oxford and Porterdale and Newton County, leaving the younger students with no prior work experience without an employer.
For those students the Washington Street Center became their place of employment. Approximately 40 students – most of them 14 and 15-years-old – are doing clerical and administrative work in the center and six are performing research for the center, and the African-American Historical Association of Newton County. They have been working on researching
the county’s heritage by developing the association’s Web site, developing links to news stories about black history in the community, including slavery, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights Movement and artistic, musical and cultural accomplishments.
Covington Mayor Kim Carter allowed the interns access to deed books about the county’s African American cemeteries dating back to the late 1800s, and the students will be mapping and documenting area cemeteries and tracing the stories of the people buried there. There is also a possibility that the interns would be working in documenting early schools in the area including the Washington Street School.
"We found creative ways to help teens to participate in meaningful service projects," said Jackson. The students work up to 35 hours a week for six weeks and are paid minimum wage for their services. Students attended a workshop prior to beginning their jobs, called "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens." The workshop focused on positive work habits and team building.
Twenty-seven students are participating in a World of Work program at the center, which will allow the students to learn how to dress for success, prepare for a future in the workforce, learn how to prepare a resume, fill out an application and search for jobs. This program is geared almost exclusively toward the youngest interns in hopes of getting them ready to search for a job in the coming years when they are older.
Students will also spend time giving back to the community by working at day cares, churches, summer camps, city and county government, Repairers of the Breach and the Salvation Army and by harvesting the community gardens.
"We have a strong emphasis on going green," Jackson said.
When it was announced that this program would be available, Jackson said she saw close to 500 students from Alcovy, Eastside and Newton High Schools and Sharp Learning Center come through the doors, and of those 240 qualified. Only 125 students were able to be placed due to a lack of funding.
"I’ve seen a change in all of these students in the last two weeks," Jackson said. "I believe this will be a life-changing experience for them as well as the adults in the community."
Many prominent members of the black community in the county joined the students at the center for a "Fireside" chat Friday afternoon, working to mentor the youths – many of which are statistically at risk for dropping out and becoming involved in unsavory activities. Interns will also have the opportunity while working with the program to sit in the courtroom of Judge Horace Johnson Jr. and to have a tour of the Newton County Sheriff’s Department.
"I truly see this as an opportunity to work with teens – a group that no one wants to work with because they are a challenge – and to help them learn to make good choices and decisions. If they learn to do that for themselves then they can learn to do good for the community," Jackson said.
"When these teens leave out of here we are going to have some kids in our community that have grown this summer and changed forever for the better."