Sonoma teens join the workforce

July 2, 2009 6:58:47 PM PDT
If you have a teenager, or are one, you know how tough it is to find a summer job. Stores and restaurants just aren't hiring.

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But, nevertheless, nearly 300 teenagers are working this summer in Sonoma County.

Most of these young people weren't expecting to find summer jobs. But here they are, working outdoors and getting paid $8 an hour -- federal stimulus money at work.

Sixteen-year-old Eva Cabrera is part of a team clearing Santa Rosa Creek.

The Youth Ecology Corps has created summer jobs when there aren't any, while teaching young people about the environment.

"I go home and like to brag to my parents and my friends that I'm actually outside working, having fun and at the same time, helping the community," said Cabrera.

Community groups, Sonoma County and cities joined forces to sponsor the program. The goal is to help young people from poor families, in foster care, or at-risk of joining gangs.

"The community benefits the most because what we're doing is, in addition to providing an ecological benefit to the community, we're also giving the foundation to the kids otherwise they would be sitting at the mall or sitting at the computer right now or playing video games," said Marc Bautista from the County Water Agency.

This is a very first job for many of the participants, which means learning how to show up for work on time and working hard.

"I really like the job," said high school senior Jorge Guevara.

"It's hard work?" asked ABC7's David Louie.

"Yeah, it is," said Guevara.

The youth ecology corps is being supported by a grant of $1.2 million in stimulus funds.

Ed Barr is chair of Sonoma County's Workforce Investment Board, an agency that focuses on job training and counseling.

"Bridges and roads, I think, are really important pieces of our infrastructure, but people are what make the world go around. Without young people, we're not going to have much of a future, so making an investment in them is absolutely the right thing to do," said Barr.

Given the chance to work, these young people are eager to earn a paycheck.

This program is scheduled to last only six weeks, but its organizers hope it will have a long-lasting impact on the young peoples' sense of self-worth and their future.

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