Summer program in Bibb helps 334 teens with jobs

jhubbard@macon.comJuly 19, 2010 

Teenager Cody Gearing doesn’t think he would have his job this summer if it weren’t for the Macon-Bibb County Office of Workforce Development’s Summer Teen Works program.

And those involved with the program hope there’s more federal stimulus money next summer to keep it going.

The Workforce Development office is under the umbrella of the city of Macon but is federally funded.

This summer, $632,000 from federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds are paying about $8.50 per hour for 334 high school and college students to work internships ranging from Captain D’s to River Edge Behavioral Health Center.

Gearing, 18, who recently graduated from Central High School, cares for horses and clears riding trails at Hearts & Hooves horse stable on the outskirts of Macon.

He’s saving money for North Georgia Technical College, where he plans to take motorcycle technician courses this fall.

With an unemployment rate in Bibb County hovering near 10 percent, Gearing said heavy competition for jobs makes it harder for a teenager to find a summer job.

“I couldn’t get anything,” he said of applying at clothing and video game stores. “I think they want someone with more experience.”

Since 1998, Workforce Development has helped high school and college students, mostly who are from low-income families, to find summer employment, gain work experience and be self-sufficient.

The department also helps adults who qualify to get training and find jobs.

Last summer, more than 600 youths found jobs through the summer program, but numbers were cut by half this year as funding sources shifted, said Barbara Yancey, the program’s director.

“This year, we did not get additional (stimulus) funding,” she said. “If we had not entered into a partnership with (the Department of Family and Children Services), we would have only served our year-round participants.”

Next year, stimulus money may specifically be earmarked to help young people find summer jobs, but that has to be approved by the U.S. House and Senate, she said. When the teens spend their paychecks, that money goes back into the economy, which is the goal of the funding, Yancey said.

“It’s in no trouble this summer,” said Andrew Blascovich, city of Macon spokesman. “The whole program may not be funded next year. Like any annual program, the level of funding is (determined) by federal appropriations.”

Yancey is stepping down as director of the department at the end of the month but said it’s her choice. She plans to remain in Macon.

Macon Mayor Robert Reichert will hold discussions in the next couple of weeks about whether to replace her position.

“I imagine it would” be replaced, Blascovich said.

Many teens and employers are keeping their fingers crossed that the program will hire as many teens — or even more — next year as it did this summer.

Since the work program pays teens their salaries with federal funding, it helps out businesses that need workers but are often unable to afford them. This summer, 91 employers in Bibb County have student interns working there.

“See these white fences,” said Bill Tyre, co-owner of Hearts & Hooves horse stable, pointing to more than 400 feet of fencing. “Cody and (another teen) painted all these. We would’ve had to hire two people.”

Tiffany Russell, a spokeswoman for River Edge Behavioral Health Center, said the agency has five student interns working there this summer.

They file backlogged paperwork, help with maintenance and help clients with housing services, she said.

“A lot of times when you are a state agency or work with a state agency, you have to wear more than one hat,” Russell said. “Having these students helps us teach them valuable skills and helps us get caught up on things.”

To contact writer Julie Hubbard, call 744-4331.

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