Youth Summer Jobs Program, a Win-Win for Teens and Employers

Leslie Plasencia, left, 15, and Yubelis Rodriguez, 16, both employees of New London Youth Affairs, chat with campers from the Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club before a swimming lesson on Thursday July 21, 2022 at Ocean Beach Park in New London. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

Shakur Hairston, 16, a worker with New London Youth Affairs, helps Jesuam Peralta, 9, during a swimming lesson for campers with Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club, Thursday, July 21, 2022, at Ocean Beach Park in New London. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

New London Youth Affairs worker Yubelis Rodriguez demonstrates hand positions for campers with Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club during a swimming lesson Thursday, July 21, 2022, at Ocean Beach Park in New London. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

Leslie Plasencia, 15, a worker for New London Youth Affairs, helps Jeriem Peralta, 9, to use a kickboard on Thursday, July 21, 2022, during a swimming lesson for campers with the Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club at Ocean Beach Park in New London. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

Shakur Hairston, 16, a New London Youth Affairs worker, demonstrates hand movements for Jesuam Peralta, 9, during a swimming lesson on Thursday, July 21, 2022, for Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club campers at Ocean Beach Park in New London. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

Zebulun Tucker sat at the conference table on Thursday afternoon at the Norwich office of production company FWRD Content, intensely focused on a graphic design project for a podcast produced by the company.

This is the 15-year-old’s first job.

“I wanted to make money, and I also want to get work experience, and I wanted to improve in something that I’m already good at,” he said. The rising sophomore at Norwich Free Academy became interested in graphic design partly by seeing thumbnails on YouTube and thinking, ‘I want to design things like this’.

He is one of more than a dozen young people working 20 hours a week for four weeks at FWRD Content, 282 Franklin St., this summer.

It’s one of more than 100 job sites in eastern Connecticut involved in the Summer Youth Jobs Program, and Tucker is one of more than 380 participants, all ages 14 at 24 years old.

The Youth Summer Employment Program is an Eastern Connecticut Workforce Investment Board program that EASTCONN, a non-profit regional education service center, runs in partnership with New London Youth Affairs and Norwich Youth & Family Services.

According to the EWIB, the number of available positions has increased by 33% compared to last year, thanks to additional state funding.

Wages are also supported by federal funding from the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act and funding from private foundations, which means employers get additional workers without having to pay them directly. The City of New London also donated $100,000 to this year’s program. Carol LaBelle, senior director of programs and special projects at EWIB, said the program received nearly $1.1 million in funding this year.

Most young people earn minimum wage, which recently increased to $14 an hour in Connecticut. LaBelle said different funding sources have different eligibility requirements, some of which are based on a family’s income.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index Inflation Calculator, $14 now has the same purchasing power as $10.84 10 years ago and $8.50 a decade ago. at 20 years.

Washington Post columnist Andrew Van Dam noted in a recent column that employment among teens aged 16 to 19 plunged when Millennials were in that age group, falling to 26% when older Millennials turned 16 in 2014, but has since risen to 33%.

EWIB Board Chairman Chris Jewell said in a press release that the summer youth employment program “has grown in importance as CT’s workforce is struggling with critical labor shortages. The ability to facilitate a job opportunity for our youth by filling gaps such as lack of transportation and lack of experience is an investment that will pay dividends.

Cyndi Wells, youth employment and training coordinator at EASTCONN, said many of the labor shortages were in summer camps, summer schools and child care. She added that some companies are interested in training young people to become lifeguards, another area that is experiencing major labor shortages.

Wells and George Lopez, a program assistant who works for New London Youth Affairs, said they have seen much more interest this year from young people, aged 14 and 15.

Lopez is one of 15 program assistants, and Wells noted that former participants have become program assistants: “Not only have they been beneficiaries of the program, but now they’re actually teaching other young people how to do this. what they did”. she says. Program assistants have other jobs during the school year.

Jessica Heikila is a program assistant at Norwich Youth & Family Services, and she said she is at FRWD Content every day to make sure the young people are working and the records are correct.

“It’s a new opportunity for them, rather than going to work in a gym or a coffee shop, not that there’s anything wrong with that,” said Justin Tucker, owner of FWRD Content. Zebulun Tucker – no relation – created a thumbnail for the “Bronx Baseball & Beer” podcast produced by FWRD Content, and other youngsters researched other sports podcasts.

Working on reception, Amaris Ortiz, 15, said she was going through emails and planning things out. Austin Li, 17, said his guidance counselor told him about the program and he wanted to take the opportunity this summer to see what it’s like to work in a real job.

“Some jump in, and some are worried, I think just because they don’t trust each other,” Justin Tucker said. “They never had the opportunity.”

FWRD Content, which also has an office in Los Angeles, has produced shows such as “Duck Dynasty,” “Straight Up Steve Austin,” “Miz & Mrs.” and “She’s the Boss.”

Saving for college and getting out of the house

Addison Macdonald came to Gumdrops & Lollipops, at 334 Main St. in Niantic, with a plan.

The 14-year-old, a second year student at Norwich Technical High School, wants to become an advanced practice registered nurse, and she said all the money she earns from working goes into her bank account to pay for her education.

She was looking for a job and first wanted to be a lifeguard but she is too young.

At Gumdrops & Lollipops, a candy store and ice cream shop, Macdonald said she “learns a lot about customer service, but just learns a lot about the work environment.” She picks up ice cream, restocks and cleans.

“We’re having such a hard time finding workers, and these kids, they show up, they’re there, they’re reliable,” owner Melinda Graus said. She said she usually gets a ton of applications on Memorial Day weekend, but she doesn’t get that many this year, “and that’s scary, because it’s our busiest time in the year”.

In New London, the Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club has several young program workers, split into a morning shift at the organization’s newly renovated space on Governor Winthrop Boulevard and an afternoon shift at the Shaw Mansion.

Steve Manuel, executive director of the New London County Historical Society, said the society’s program at Shaw Mansion, 11 Blinman St., this year is archaeology. He said educators are essential in interpreting things in Spanish for children aged 6 to 12.

The camp also included swimming lessons at Ocean Beach Park, arts and crafts, and trips to the Mystic Aquarium and the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme. Each Youth Worker is paired with a small group of children — playing with them, teaching them and helping the Boys and Girls Club staff.

Andy Garcia, 15, said it was a new experience and something to do in the summer and earn money; previous summers he said he would go outside and play video games. Rodrigo Pacheco, 14, said he heard about the program from his older brother, who wanted to do it but couldn’t because of COVID-19. These are their first two jobs.

“I wanted to get out of the house,” Pacheco said.

Yanira Rosario, director of the Boys & Girls Club program, said most youth workers were shy at first, but became more empowered with each passing day. She called the program “a two-way blessing, a two-way benefit, because we get their help, and we also give them the opportunity to have a job.”

Some of the other jobs in the Summer Jobs for Youth Program are office assistant, janitor, landscape worker and library helper. There are also cooking and serving stations at Johnny’s Clam Shack, La Stella Pizzeria, Mambo’s Restaurant, and Shaking Crab.

Other job sites include the Drop-In Learning Center, FRESH New London, Goodwill, McKenna’s Flower Shop, Norwich Fitness Center, NSA Supermarket, Rita’s Italian Ice, Safe Futures, Super Saver Laundromat, and various school systems.

To learn more, visit ewib.org/summer.

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Ryan H. Bowman