Summer Workers Get Federal Stimulus

Young People Find Opportunity In Howard County Program

July 12, 2009|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,

Recently moved from Northern Virginia to his dad's home in Columbia, 16-year-old Xavier T. Bates found a summer job despite the recession, thanks to some help from the federal government.

Like 27 other Howard County youths, Bates is working 25 hours a week for six weeks, making $8 an hour in federal stimulus money in what officials say is the first summer jobs program of its kind in the county in years. He plans to contribute some of his earnings to his family while also saving for college, he said.

"I don't want to get out of the routine of working during the summer," Bates said. Going to a job three days a week will make readjusting to school for 11th grade that much easier, he said.

Howard got $54,636 in federal funds for the program, which enabled Francine Trout, director of the Howard County Office of Workforce Development in Columbia, to finance jobs with county agencies, nonprofits such as Goodwill and private firms that need summer help but might not be able to afford it. About 10 percent of the money goes to administrative costs, and Trout also hired someone to oversee the young workers. Any money left over can be used later, either in the fall or next summer.

"We're providing an opportunity for these kids to find out what they like and don't like to do," Trout said. The jobs range from helping with county Recreation and Parks summer camps and clean-up crews to office jobs working with computers. Young people ages 16 to 24 whose families have limited incomes or who have particular challenges are eligible under federal rules, though most are teens, Trout said. They were recruited through county schools and other agencies, said Trout and Ramona Andrews, a consultant in Trout's agency.

"Hopefully, some of the older youth will work past the summer," turning the seasonal jobs into permanent, private-sector employment, Andrews said.

Bates said his stepmother, Nikeava Bates, found out about the opportunity from the work force development agency and his dad, Melvin Bates, drove him in to apply. His parents drive him to and from work, though he hopes to begin riding his bicycle from his home in nearby Long Reach.

He's interested in computers and hopes to become an engineer, so the chance to make money while learning how to program computer code seemed like a great opportunity, he said.

"I would appreciate any job," Bates said, but he especially likes the computer software position he has with Leah Conover's Peyak Solutions Inc., a nearly two-year-old, two-person start-up operating in Howard County's Center for Business and Technology Development in the county's Dorsey Building on Bendix Road.

Bates is learning fast as he works with two computers at a small desk in Conover's closet-size office, while she sits nearby, working with three computers.

"We have constant interaction," Conover said, adding that she's worked with summer interns before.

"It is important to me to shape young people and teach them IT and programming," she said. Having help frees her to get more done, she said.

"He's saving me a lot of time."

Peyak is a Native American word, she says, meaning "one" or "first." She was born on a Cree Indian reservation in Canada, but grew up in Columbia after her adoption as a young child, she said.

Her firm is creating event management software for private firms as Conover and a partner, Jon Heaton, work to ready their tiny firm to compete for government contracts.

Bates' first thought for this summer was landscape work, as he has done for several summers, helping his stepfather in Virginia, but he decided against that this year, he said.

"It's too hot for landscaping. Maybe an office job would be helpful," he recalled thinking.

Not that he's afraid of physical activity. He rides a bicycle around Columbia when he's off and hopes to try out for football next month at Long Reach High. Meanwhile, the job is helping to prepare him for his long-term future.

"I know I'm going to have to work with computers," he said.

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