Stimulus dollars put youths on task

Saturday, July 25
PITTSFIELD -- Federal stimulus money -- $118,267 -- has put 70 low-income youths to work for the summer in Berkshire County.

The program is placing "money into the pockets of the youth," according to Heather Shogry, Youth Director of the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board Inc., an organization that provides educational opportunities to both employers and employees in the Berkshires.

The primary focus is on "workplace readiness," or teaching youths discipline, responsibilities, and work ethic to show young people how to be successful employees.

The youths are at work at a variety of jobs, ranging from restaurant jobs to environmental projects.

At the South Berkshire Educational Collaborative, in association with Mount Everett Regional High School, kids are working at a fish hatchery under the direction of two environmental scientists.

At Hillcrest Educational Centers in Pittsfield, the jobs include receptionists and technician aides at a dentist's office.

Through the Adams Youth Center Inc., young people have been placed in various jobs -- from bussing to serving -- at restaurants.

In addition to those listed above, other organizations have received a share of the stimulus funds to provide jobs for youth: The Corporation for Public Management, and the Lenox and North Adams public schools.

The youth who were selected had to be income-eligible, meaning their families live at or below the poverty line. Their ages range from 14 to 24; they were placed in jobs based on their interests and what jobs were close to their homes. For some youths, their employment started in June and for others it started in July. Their terms of employment last 4 to 6 weeks.

The federal stimulus money pays their wages. The program puts money into the hands of youth, builds their interest in becoming part of the workforce, and pumps money into the local economy, since the kids will spend their wages within the community.

The employers were chosen by the Regional Employment Board's Youth Council Proposal Committee.

The funds come from the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and then cascades through various offices starting with the U.S. Department of Labor, then the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, and the Workforce Investment Boards, before it's finally distributed to county organizations, such as the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board, and into the youths' paychecks.

There is little hope for another round of this federal stimulus funding next summer, but Shogry said there are other ongoing state-funded youth employment programs which have been in existence for multiple years.


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