Stimulus Dollars Give Youth Experience and Work

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Many young people get summer jobs….some at fast food restaurants, others are ice cream shops or maybe the local mall. There are some teens and twenty-something’s, though, that get to spend the summer working outdoors at some of the state’s best parks. WOSU reports on a federal program that’s helping Ohio’s young people learn basic job skills AND giving work to the unemployed.

Cliff O’Connor picks up a piece of board and shows a small work crew how to measure it and cut it down to size. The crew is made up of young people between 16 and 21 years of age. This day they’re replacing park benches at the Alum Creek State Park beach in Delaware County.

O’Connor is the crew’s leader. And until about the middle of June he was unemployed. O’Connor lost his job as an IT manager when his employer downsized.

“A lot of people are finding it’s not easy to find jobs and that’s exactly where I was at,” O’Connor said. So O’Connor went to Delaware County Job and Family Services. He said he was open to any kind of work. But he mentioned he’d like to work with youth – something O’Connor says he has always wanted to do but never got the chance.

That’s when he was given the opportunity to be a crew leader with the Recovery Conservation Corps. RCC is a partnership with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, and funded through federal stimulus dollars. The ODNR will get $2 million over the next two years to hire people between the ages of 16 and 24 to perform maintenance work at some of the state’s parks. Almost 300 have been hired already across Ohio.

Among the many assignments, the crews clear trails of brush, clean camp sites and maintain parking areas and boat launches.

“You name it. What would normally be done by park staff our teams do.”

When asked how the young people have reacted to all of the manual labor O’Connor said,”There’s been minor incidents, but you’re going to get that in any work situation. But for the vast majority of it everybody has really kind of stepped up and you know given the circumstances and the background that these kids come from, you know, they’ve shown up every day and put a really good work ethic forward, and we’re really happy with what they’ve done.”

On this day about 14 people split up into two teams. They’re at the Alum Creek beach. They’ve already done some painting, had some lunch and have moved on to replacing park benches.

21-year-old Samantha Sidders is one of the crew. Like many of the others, she has little work experience. Sidders went to school to be a pastry chef. But she said she quickly learned the demand for pastry chefs in Delaware is small. She hopes this summer job will prepare her for other work.

“Broaden people skills, learn how to work on a crew better. More or less get more work experience and being able to take that and reapply that to a different job,” Sidders said.

O’Connor said all of the crew leaders have real-world job experience and bring that to the kids. Among many of the skills he hopes the kids learn are team building, conflict resolution and how to delegate and manage tasks.

“They’re learning and hopefully when they get their next job they’ll be able to take those skills into the workplace and say, hey, I’m a good hard worker, I’m a team player. I’m all the things you want in a good employee,” he said.

When the summer ends most of the crew will head back to school or move on to other jobs. But a few workers, including O’Connor, get to stay on and continue park maintenance around Delaware. It’s unknown how long that will last.

19-year-old Tyler Stanley gets to continue with the program. He said he likes working outside hopes his experience with the RCC will land him a job in the landscaping industry.

“I’m pretty much going to go to other landscaping companies, like big companies, and just be like well I’ve been working outside for all summer, and I’m looking for something else. And it will be winter so I might have to wait for next summer, but just pretty much take what I can in the winter and wait for the summer to come around,” Stanley said.

O’Connor said he’s unsure what’s in store for him once the program is over. His fingers are crossed the economy is on the mend so he can get back to work in IT. For now, though, he’s pretty content.

“I feel good about my day for the first time in a long time. And I know that I’ve made a difference in somebody else’s life and that really means a lot to me,” O’Connor said.