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A summer youth employment program provided real job experience to 70 teens during the summer and local businesses had the opportunity to lay a foundation for their future workforces.

On Oct. 30, the Tri-County Council for Southern Maryland recognized participants in the Summer Youth Employment Program at Middleton Hall in Waldorf at the third annual youth recognition ceremony.

The employment program aims “to connect youth with public and private sector employers so they can gain an appreciation of the labor market, gain insights into their own strengths as employable citizens, and learn marketable skills,” according to the council’s website.

The program runs from six to eight weeks depending on the participant’s job placement, and participants work at least 30 hours a week. This year, participants were paid $9 an hour. The council pays each participant, and they are on payroll through ManPower, a temporary staffing agency and partner of the program.

Prior to being placed at one of the program’s business partners for their summer employment, the teens get training on how to write a resumé, workplace etiquette and other useful workforce knowledge. They then are placed in a job that suits their interests.

Pamela Wilkerson, the council’s youth programs operations manager, said of the 70 who went through the summer program, 65 completed it. Five participants either dropped out of the program, or their services were no longer needed by the business.

Some teens were able to continue with their employers after the program was finished.

“They get a true learning experience with lessons about how to obtain a job, how to keep a job once they have one and how to turn any job into an investment of time and effort for their future,” said Ruthy Davis, TCC director of regional workforce and business development, at the ceremony.

There were 43 businesses that participated in the program.

Wilkerson said there is no obligation to the business.

She said businesses provide a positive workplace experience, supervise the young employees and act as a mentor.

The council provides funding for the youth’s trainings and salaries during the program.

Wilkerson said the program got its funding from three sources this year. She said $54,000 came from carry-over from last year’s budget. Wilkerson said that money comes from the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

Another $30,000 came from the Charles County commissioners and $37,000 came from Gov. Martin O’Malley’s (D) Summer Youth Connection grant.

Wilkerson said even with those funds, the council had to turn away people from the program due to lack of funding.

Commissioners’ presidents from St. Mary’s and Calvert counties, Jack Russell (D) and Pat Nutter (R) said they would look into trying to get funding from their counties for the summer program.

Davis said the program is well funded, but the goal is to “serve as many as we possibly can with every penny we come up with.”

Mariah Mkandawire, 18, of La Plata participated in the summer program and was connected with Southern Maryland Oil for her employment.

Mkandawire said she found out about the program when she went to the unemployment office looking for a job. Instead of just any old job, Mkandawire was directed to the summer employment opportunity.

She said she received training through the program and was placed in an office job at Southern Maryland Oil’s La Plata office. She said she enjoyed the experience. She said the other employees were kind and welcoming.

Mostly, she enjoyed the seven-week experience because it was her first job, and she was able to get a lot of job experience.

She said the experience will help her to get jobs in the future, and she now has references other than family and friends.

Elijah Newell, 16, said he worked at Children’s Aid Society of Charles County as a warehouse assistant. He said the job was “pretty fun.”

His mother, Starlet Strotter of Waldorf, said the program was amazing and was a great opportunity for her son.

Newell was unable to continue with his job after the summer program was over because the hours conflicted with his schooling.

Wilkerson said five of the 70 who participated were hired at their respective job locations after the program.

She said 80 percent of businesses that participated were satisfied with the performance and quality of work from the participants while 20 percent were dissatisfied.

Wilkerson said that tells them that there still is work to be done.

She said 100 percent of the businesses said in a survey that they would be interested in working with the program again.

During the recognition ceremony, youth participants and their guests heard success stories from participants and businesses, and they heard encouraging words from county commissioners including Russell, Nutter and Charles County commissioners’ Vice President Reuben B. Collins II (D).

Guest speaker Ellen Flowers-Fields, deputy assistant secretary of the Division of Workforce Development and Adult Learning for DLLR, spoke about the importance of community, leadership and lifelong learning and investment when it comes to youth and the workforce.

“Youth have been and will continue to be an important part of the workforce conversation,” she said.