Summer jobs program a boon to region's youth

Sprague - Who doesn't remember his first job?

Virtually everyone does, those behind the Eastern Connecticut Workforce Investment Board's Summer Youth Employment Program agreed Monday. And that bodes well for the 400 young people the program has placed in part-time jobs for the next several weeks.

"It's not just about a paycheck," U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, said at a press conference at Town Hall here. "It's about dignity."

Courtney, on hand to mark the annual program's latest launch, praised EWIB staff and the foundations and philanthropic organizations whose funding support make the program possible.

Sue Murphy, executive director of the Liberty Bank Foundation, said the groups combined to provide more than $54,000 for the program this year, bringing their three-year total to more than $135,000 - enough to provide for about 120 jobs for young people, ages 14-21.

Among the funders this year are People's United Community Foundation; AT&T Foundation; Mystic Aquarium/Sea Research Foundation; Edward and Mary Lord Foundation; Liberty Bank Foundation; Pfizer Community Grants Foundation; Charter Oak Federal Credit Union; and Dime Bank Foundation.

The state and federal governments also provide funding.

Growing support for the program has enabled organizers to increase its capacity, though it still receives twice as many applications as it has jobs to offer, John Beauregard, EWIB's executive director, said.

Historically, the unemployment rate for those younger than 25 has been more than twice the national rate.

EASTCONN, Norwich Youth and Family Services and New London's Office of Youth Affairs align young people with jobs at public and private work sites throughout the 41-town region EWIB serves.

Kateri Wheeler, Mystic Aquarium's director of human resources, said the aquarium provided 10 youths with transportation to and from jobs at the aquarium last year. When the program ended, many of the youths kept working at the aquarium during weekends and on vacations.

This year, the aquarium is providing more jobs in its guest relations department, said Kelly Milton, the department's director.

The Town of Sprague is another jobs provider, putting youths to work at its public library and in its maintenance and recreation departments. First Selectwoman and state Sen. Cathy Osten said program participants would also be provided with breakfast and lunch through the town's participation in a federal summer meals program.

One of the program participants, Logan Hansen, a 16-year-old about to enter his senior year at Norwich Free Academy, described the work he's been doing for the town, including organizing a garage that was "pretty disastrous," picking up trash and spreading mulch.

It's his first brush with the working world, he said, no doubt one he'll remember.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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