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Summer youth employment program positive for community

Chris Fisher, a 2008 Park Rapids Area High School graduate, worked for the city of Park Rapids planning department this summer. (Anna Erickson / Enterprise)

Park Rapids employers received extra help this summer from youth workers.

Rural Minnesota CEP, Inc. received additional funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Brenda Johnson was the crew leader in Park Rapids. She recruited students to participate in the program and asked employers to participate.

"This was very successful," Johnson said. "The crew working around the schools helped a lot with cleaning up the grounds."

This summer, the age range for young workers was expanded. The jobs were 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.

Other employers that participated in the program included daycare providers and the city of Park Rapids planning department. Another student helped set up computers around the schools, Johnson said.

Virginia Deeds, team leader for Rural Minnesota CEP out of Bemidji, said the program was successful around the area, beyond Park Rapids.

"We've heard great things," she said. "Overall, the caliber of kids was high."

Deeds works out of an office that covers four counties in the region: Hubbard, Clearwater, northern Cass and Lake of the Woods.

This summer, the youth continued to work through August, Deeds said. In the past, the numbers would drop off before then, she said.

"It tells me there is a need for work in the community," Deeds said.

Johnson saw kids make progress during the summer. Each set several goals and most met them.

Goals included reliability, interpersonal relations, work site appropriateness, problem solving, communication skills, productivity, accuracy and safety.

"A lot of the kids learned some very good work skill values," Johnson said.

Some of the workers even got an idea of what they'd like to have as a career.

Caleb Atkins, who will be a senior this fall at Park Rapids Area High School, is one of those students. He worked for the Community Education office in Park Rapids.

"During the interview we realized that this job was the perfect fit for me," Atkins said in a letter sent to the Department of Employment and Economic Development. "My job is never really the same two days in a row."

He helped with registration for upcoming classes and performed various office tasks. He also helped teach preschool.

"I loved working with the little kids and had a blast," he said. "I am also involved in coaching T-ball for four- and five-year-olds."

Atkins will continue to work a few hours a week during the school year for the Community Education office.

The job coincides with what he'd like to do in the future. After high school he plans to attend Northwestern College in St. Paul, get his degree in youth and family ministries and become a youth pastor. He also wants to get his coaching certificate.

Chris Fisher also had a job through the CEP program. He helped Park Rapids City Planner Dan Walker in the planning department.

"I did everything from taking inventory to shredding documents and entering data," Fisher said.

One of his favorite tasks of the summer was organizing blueprints from the 1950s, he said.

Fisher graduated from Park Rapids Area High School in 2008 and attends Bemidji State University.

The amount of funding for the program next year is unknown but Johnson hopes she can continue matching up youth with employers in the community.

"It was positive for the kids and positive for the community," Johnson said. "I applaud our community for the excellent job they did."