Norwich — Coree DeShields, a 17-year-old Norwich Free Academy junior, has worked the past three summers, two assisting film crews and one at Otis Library.
"Teenagers," she said, "are not what society assumes they are. We have goals."
Shateeka Phillips, a Grasso Tech senior from New London, is bound for Curry College, where she plans to study politics and history. Also 17, she calls the summer jobs she's had "the best experience of my life."
Such are the stories of teens who've been placed in jobs through the Eastern Connecticut Workforce Investment Board's Summer Youth Employment Program. This summer, EWIB will maintain the program with a boost from the Southeast Connecticut Funders Collaborative, a group of five local foundations and corporations.
Sue Murphy, executive director of the Liberty Bank Foundation, one of the collaborative's members, announced at a press conference Friday that the group is providing a $25,000 grant to the program, which benefits disadvantaged youth in eastern Connecticut.
The grant will help offset reductions in state and federal funding, although various state departments are providing $725,000 for the program this year, according to John Beauregard, EWIB's executive director.
Beauregard said the program will pay the salaries of 400 youths, ages 14 to 21, who will fill part-time jobs made available by some 150 employers in the region. The youths will work 25 hours a week for six weeks, earning $8.25 an hour. The program provides the youths with transportation to and from their jobs and with training in basic workplace skills.
The collaborative's grant will fund jobs for more than 20 youths.
"This shows that the region is willing to collaborate to solve its problems," Beauregard said during the press conference at the Holiday Inn.
Faced with the prospect of providing fewer summer jobs than in the past, he said he began meeting over the winter with foundation representatives who pored over economic data and discussed what they could do to help.
The collaborative's other members are the People's United Community Foundation, Dominion Nuclear, the Dime Bank Foundation and the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut.
Two-thirds of the total funding for the program — nearly $500,000 — will be paid to the youths in the form of salaries.
"And the thing about kids — they're spenders," Beauregard said. "They will pour that money right back into the economy."
EWIB calculates that the 400 part-time jobs, many of which are seasonal and in the retail and service sectors, will spur further hiring and spending, producing an infusion of $866,000 over six weeks, Beauregard said.
Representatives of the collaborative's members remarked on the importance of providing youths with summer employment.
"This likely will be the first job for most of them," Dominion's Kevin Hennessy said. "It's about more than having a paycheck. It's about instilling pride."
Alice Fitzpatrick, president of the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut, noted that young people without work experience are finding it hurts them in applying to colleges.
"We see the benefits of the program — also what happens when summer programs are not available," said Robert Harwell, Otis Library's executive director. "Without programs like this, we would be losing future leaders."
Beauregard said he expects more than 1,000 summer job applications.