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CEP program finds summer jobs for youth

Caleb Atkins works in the Community Education office this summer, registering people for classes and helping to teach classes. He said the job was a perfect fit for him based on his interests. (Anna Erickson / Enterprise)1 / 2
Dan Hahn works on landscaping for Park Rapids Area Schools as part of the Rural Minnesota CEP summer program. Wages are paid through federal dollars. (Anna Erickson / Enterprise)2 / 2

Area youth are lending a helping hand this summer - and getting paid - thanks to federal stimulus money.

Rural Minnesota CEP, Inc. offers a summer program for kids. It has been available for years but this year received additional funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, said Virginia Deeds, team leader for Rural Minnesota CEP.

In Park Rapids, Brenda Johnson is the summer crew youth leader. During the school year she is the work-based learning coordinator and transition coordinator.

Toward the end of the school year, Johnson began recruiting students to participate in the program and asking employers to participate.

"The goal is not to replace jobs but to supplement by having them work on special or additional projects," Johnson said.

This summer, the age range for young workers was expanded. The jobs are for youth between ages 14 and 24 years old. Previously, the age range was 14 to 21 years old. Their wages are paid for through CEP, Deeds said.

Deeds works out of an office that covers four counties in the region: Hubbard, Clearwater, northern Cass and Lake of the Woods. She estimates up to 200 youth will participate in this summer's program. Last year was probably close to 75, she said.

"They'll learn work readiness skills, values, basic skills at their jobs," Deeds said.

Each worker sets one goal, at least, for the summer.

"We owe a lot to our employers in taking this on," Deeds said. "They help them learn positive work habits."

Johnson estimates close to 70 workers got jobs through the CEP program in Hubbard County.

The main site is the Park Rapids Area School District.

Some youth got jobs assisting the building and grounds crew at the school. These students will be working on special projects such as weeding and cleaning up around the school.

Others are working at the Headwaters Animal Shelter, the city's public works department or in daycare. Some students are working at local theaters.

"We asked what their interests were and tried to match up jobs to fit that," Johnson said.

Those who wanted to work in daycares went through training to be qualified.

Youth working through the CEP program can work up to 40 hours per week. Some choose to work fewer hours if they are involved in other summer activities, Johnson said.

They earn minimum wage to start and that will increase in July, she said.

"All that we require of employers is adequate supervision and filling out a time card," Johnson said.

She thinks the summer program benefits everyone in the community.

"It's good for the youth, it's good for the community," Johnson said. "They earn income and will probably end up spending it locally."

Before starting their summer jobs, youth went through training to learn what employers will expect.

Caleb Atkins, who will be a senior this fall at Park Rapids Area High School, is working in the Community Education office for the summer.

"I get to help people register for classes, help out with tennis, T-ball, senior computer classes," he said.

He is also taking pictures during the summer for the Community Education brochure.

"This was the perfect fit," Atkins said. "I want to be a youth pastor and a coach. I'll need to communicate well with kids."

Dan Hahn, a 2009 graduate of Park Rapids Area High School, is working on landscape for the summer around the schools.

"I'm loving it," he said.

He's pulling up weeds, raking, sprucing up the grounds around the school.

"I just have to remember the sunscreen," Hahn said.