Nine local youth have taken part in the Youth Service Corps in Paynesville, sponsored by the Stearns-Benton Employment and Training Council, which has 13 programs of this sort in the two counties. The Paynesville crew consists of Jenny Berg, David Gilroy, Tasha Hilliard, Brandon Hoppe, Curt Ramthun, Mike Smith, Heidi Steinhofer, Cory Vadner, and Chris Weiss.
The crews work from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. from Mondays to Thursdays. The seven-week program started on June 21 and ends on Aug. 5.
They have worked for both the local school district and for the city of Paynesville, primarily at the city beach. Jobs include cutting grass and trimming around trees; painting doors, freezers, trash cans, and the observation tower at the Veteran's Memorial Park; washing walls; cleaning the beach; cutting and removing brush at the park; putting wood chips on the trails; making improvements to the concession stand at the beach; moving piles of paper at the school; and sanding and refinishing the art tables.
"This crew is really, really good. They work," said their local supervisor, Wayne Hansen, a teacher at Paynesville Area Middle School. "They take (a job) over on their own and it's like, 'We're going to get this, this, and this done.' "
On a hot morning out at the city beach, Chris Weiss was in high spirits saying that he prefers working outside and that his fellow crew members could still work hard, despite the heat.
"They've just been one heck of a fabulous crew. "Basically, anything we wanted they've attacked with enthusiasm," said Ron Mergen, public works director for the city of Paynesville. "Out at the park, a lot of those little jobs wouldn't get done without them."
At the school, Barb Koehn, food supervisor, appreciated the cleaning and painting the group did in the kitchen. They washed the walls and the vents, cleaned the stainless steel equipment, and painted the cooler and freezer. Koehn said they did a lot of hard, dirty work that hadn't been done in the five years she's been at the school. "To me," she added, "it's been a real valuable asset for the school to have them around because it's things that the custodians have absolutely no time to do."
Building and grounds supervisor Lew Storkamp agreed that the crew has done jobs that normally wouldn't get done. While he appreciates that help, he said the most important part of the program was the learning, and not just job skills. "I heard the comment, 'Who put all this gum under the table?'" Storkamp recalled.
Storkamp felt this year's crew was the most successful. Previously, the school had a work crew like this in the summer of 1997.
Actually, one of the main goals behind the crews is learning. "The purpose of the program is basically two-fold: education and work readiness," explained Kevin Blanchette, Summer Youth Program Coordinator for the Stearns-Benton Employment and Training Council. Students help prioritize the to-do lists, determine the necessary materials, and help order supplies, as well as performing the actual tasks.
Through the job, the students learn about some work skill requirements, like being on time, communicating with others, working as a team, wearing appropriate attire, completing tasks up to expectations, working safely, and maintaining a good attitude.
"We see this as an initial job experience," said Blanchette. "It's a stepping stone from the school environment to a working environment."
"It's an important transition to help students make," he added.
The youth have access to a computer featuring potential careers, they keep a daily journal about their work experience, they attend seminars about different work-place issues, and had a career day last week.
To be eligible for the program, youth must be between 14 and 21 years of age. They must be nominated as well as meet certain criteria set by the employment and training council. The students are paid by the employment and training council on an hourly basis.
On Tuesday, Aug. 3, a recognition ceremony will be held for the youth in the agriculture classroom at Paynesville Area High School from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Blanchette said the ceremony would recognize the group's achievements and would give the public a chance to show its appreciation.
At the ceremony, each student will get a portfolio with records of their work this summer. "They'll walk out of here with a complete portfolio of what they've done and recommendations," said Hansen, which could enable them to find a part-time job in the private sector in the future.
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