Peninsula-wide program put 85 teens to work this summer

This summer could’ve been a major bummer for the teenage job hunter.

Deep recession. Massive layoffs across the country. Everywhere you look, lots more applicants than openings.

But thanks to people such as Cheryl Stough of Sequim, Carl Chastain of Forks and Wes Livingston of Port Ludlow, it turned into a happy ending for 85 young workers on the North Olympic Peninsula.

The Summer Youth Employment Program provided six weeks of work for minimum wage for youths age 16 to 24 with $313,000 in funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, also known as the federal stimulus package.

For employers, it was “truly fantastic,” Chastain said Friday during the program finale at the Peninsula College Longhouse.

The program paid for 72 young workers in Clallam County and 13 in Jefferson County to toil for $8.55 an hour in local workplaces.

Employer pleased

Chastain, executive director of the Pacific Salmon Coalition, was among the employers who welcomed workers from the program.

He taught them the nuts and bolts of salmon habitat restoration across the West End: sandbagging, trail clearing and trash pickup ­– dirty jobs that people like Brett Crump, 16, didn’t shrink from doing.

And the federally funded program, Chastain added, enabled his strapped nonprofit organization to hire extra workers he couldn’t have otherwise afforded.

It was a good deal for him and for the teens, Forks High School students who wanted the work experience and the mentorship, he said. And it helped the coalition “accomplish more with the limited resources we all seem to have these days.”

An education

Whitley Barnes, an 18-year-old from Joyce, said she got a well-rounded education in her month-and-a-half stint at the YMCA’s Port Angeles summer camp.

She organized camp activities, from sports to skits to knitting, with kids age 5 to 11. She developed a mentor in her boss, Susie Hancock, and learned much from her fellow workers.

“Whitley is phenomenal,” said Stough, coordinator of the youth employment program in Clallam County.

Barnes graduated from Crescent High School in June with a 4.0 grade-point average and plans to study political science at Washington State University, “and she only wants to become a lawyer, and then a judge,” Stough added.

This summer, Barnes said, she realized her own ability to be a role model.

“I got to be the older kid,” she said, demonstrating how to have fun while working hard.

The program’s 36-hour work week included workshops on resume writing and other job readiness skills for all the young workers.

In those workshops, Barnes said, she met women her own age who already have children and who spent their summer wages on food and rent. And she watched other workers who, after starting out shy and uncertain at the beginning of summer, bloomed.

Tony Cortani, owner of Tim’s Custom Cabinets in Sequim, learned something about teenagers this summer.

Joshua Kober, 19, worked with him, preparing cabinets for finishing and installation ­– and dispelling Cortani’s doubts about the employment program.

“At first I had a lot of reservations. I thought I was going to get kids who would have no interest and who would waste my time,” Cortani said.

‘Good work ethic’

“I found out there are kids out there who have a good work ethic and want to apply themselves.”

“Thank you,” Kober responded.

Brittany Willert, a 17-year-old from Marrowstone Island, has been rising at 4 a.m. four mornings a week to work her 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. shift at the Resort at Port Ludlow.

With Wes Livingston training and supervising, she mowed around the model homes, cut weeds on the golf course, pruned, fertilized — and learned all about golf terms and players’ needs.

Livingston and the rest of the landscaping crew were “mostly older gentlemen; they were like the dads I never had,” Willert said. “They were really cool with me asking questions.”

And Willert, who had planned to become a dental hygienist, called her landscaping job a “powerful eye-opener” to the benefits of working outdoors.

“I was at work, but it was like a getaway because it’s beautiful and the people are so, so nice,” she said.

Like Barnes, Willert was inspired by other teens in the summer work program.

“The kids have been through some pretty rough times. They’re all just wanting to work,” she said.

Both counties

Clallam County, because it has both a higher proportion of economically disadvantaged youth and more severe unemployment, received far more — $259,000 — for its summer-job program than Jefferson County, which got just $54,000.

In both counties the employers made the program possible, said Stough, who matched organizations such as the salmon coalition, Tim’s Custom Cabinets and the YMCA with young people particularly interested in those lines of work.

In Jefferson County, coordinator Anne Burns matched workers with 13 businesses ranging from Seams to Last, a children’s clothing shop in Port Townsend, the Chimacum Veterinary Hospital and The Village Baker in Port Townsend.

There’s no telling, the coordinators said, whether more federal money will be available in 2010.

The young people in this summer’s program, whatever happens, believe they will hold onto its benefits.

“We built so many strong ties,” Barnes said of her boss, the program coordinators and her fellow workers.

The golf-course landscaping team, Willert added, “taught me about golf, and about life.”

________

Sequim-Dungeness Valley reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-681-2391 or at diane.urbani@peninsuladailynews.com.

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