Tuesday August 21, 2012

PITTSFIELD

A couple of months after graduating from Taconic High School, 18-year-old Jalen Ardrey is finding himself getting up around 6:30 a.m. to get to work.

He used to take a bus to the corner of Central Berkshire Boulevard and Route 20, and walk the mile to get to his summer job with Interprint's laser engraving center, but he wasn't getting their on time. So now he wakes up earlier to get to work at 8 a.m., Monday through Thursday,

His motivation: To do a good job.

Ardrey is one of 56 local youths who found work with one of 31 local businesses participating in the Summer Youth Works Program of the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board Inc.

"It's a good program because it helps kids have jobs for summer," said Ardrey, who said he's saving up for college. This fall, he plans to attend Berkshire Community College to begin studying in the criminal justice program. He said he wants to become a probation officer.

Now in its eighth year based in Pittsfield, the Summer Youth Works program uses state funds to pay for training and place youths, ages 14 to 21, in paid internship positions with local businesses. Youth Works has served more than 250 income-eligible youth in Berkshire County since 2005.

The Commonwealth Corporation's Center for Youth Development and Education has a state budget line item to provide funds to serve eligible youth within 20 identified cities that have the highest incidence of poverty.

Pittsfield received $107,503 for its program this year and pays the young workers $9 per hour.

Youths work approximately 25 hours a week and participated in work readiness and workplace health and safety training programs prior to beginning their work experiences.

The program term ends with a celebration this Friday, but some students will continue working for an extra week, due to a surplus of funding.

Arien Hardy, 16, a rising junior at Taconic High School, said she applied to a number of local employers before finally landing a Summer Youth Works position in the treasurer's office at Pittsfield City Hall.

"I think [the program] is a really good idea, especially for kids because we don't have job experience," said Hardy.

"You don't get hired at workplaces without references," she said.

In addition to refreshing and gaining new workplace skills, Summer Youth Works participants are also mentored by their job supervisors. Regional Employment Board Youth Director Heather Shogry-Williams said in some cases, these initial youth-employer connections can help students land post-internship jobs.

"We work a lot with local high schools to make them aware of job opportunities in the Berkshires and in Pittsfield," said Lauren Ziemek, human resources director for Interprint. She said the company hired a previous Summer Youth Works intern, Benjamin Tinker, after being pleased with his work ethic and performance.

Todd Luman, Interprint's laser engineering manager, has been mentoring Ardrey. He said he's seen the student grow in his work and ethic.

"His attitude is key and responsibility will go a long way," Luman said of Ardrey.

Susan Carmel, the city of Pittsfield's finance director, said she's enjoyed helping Hardy realize her potential.

"She's extremely bright. Once we brought her in here, I realized she was far more capable beyond making copies. We didn't want to hold her back," said Carmel.

The director and her staff gave Hardy responsibilities ranging from creating spreadsheets for the city to researching property values.

"She's done a great job. We don't want to see her go," Carmel said.