Valuable life lessons

Gardening, car detailing and stocking shelves give teens extra cash and teach them life skills
Wednesday, June 22, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:15 a.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

Keith Holmes would have been hanging out on the streets. Shante Loethen probably wouldn’t have graduated from high school on time. Sam Adekunle wouldn’t have any extra spending money. Jasmyne McClanahan would simply be bored.

These youths have benefited from the Career Awareness Related Experience program, a Columbia Parks and Recreation Department program that helps 14- to 18-year-olds by getting them jobs and tutoring them during the school year. The program provides employers with free help because the city pays the students. The program, which runs from June 13 to Aug. 5, accepted 200 participants this summer, a record high. Normally, it invites 170 to 180, CARE coordinator Kim Partney said. It also had to turn away 100 applicants.

CARE is in its 24th year. Partney said it is able to serve 200 this year because she did some restructuring that cut down on staff hours and allowed the program to pay more youths. Partney is the only full-time worker; there are nine part-time staffers.

“We now have a staff that’s really invested in helping youths stay on track and helping them to get motivated about what career or school interest they have,” she said.

The city has spent about $375,000 on CARE for each of the past several years. Partney said that without more money, the program will be unable to serve more than 200 youths.

“The only way to increase people would be to get outside funding,” she said. “But right now, I’d rather focus on kids we’re serving now and provide them with more comprehensive services. It’s about sustaining a relationship and support.”

A state grant and a collaborative effort with Human Development Corp. allowed CARE’s job program to pay participants during the school year for the first time in 2004-05. But Partney doesn’t know whether the program will operate next school year because of uncertainty about funding and about how working during the school year affects participants.

When students apply to the employment program, they fill out an application and have an interview. On the application, they write down what type of job they would like to have, ranging from simply working outside to working with kids or food. Participants work up to 23 hours a week and can elect to take an extra two-hour class once a week. They’re paid $5.15 per hour on the job and in class.

This summer about 110 employers are involved, CARE job coach Josh Livingston said. They include Joe Machens Ford, Lady Foot Locker, Shakespeare’s Pizza, Wilson’s Garden Center and Gift Shop, and the Root Cellar.

Communication is one of the main skills the program tries to teach, Livingston said. He wants participants to learn how to approach situations, gain confidence and tap into their strengths. He also teaches them how to handle temper problems and how to be assertive communicators.

“There are different ways to say, ‘Well I’m not going to do that,’ ” he said. “You can ask questions and not use negative body language or tones.”

Sixteen-year-old CARE participant Keith Holmes said he has become a different person because of the program. He did car detailing, waxing and vacuuming at Head Motor Co. during the school year, and the experience caused him to change his priorities.

“I’d rather work now than hang out with my friends on the street,” he said, adding that he liked the atmosphere at his job.

“The job was real good because they’re funny,” Holmes said. “Plus, if you’re down, they’ll make you smile.”

CARE also taught him “about life, to be more respectable,” he said.

The program has also helped participants accomplish short-term goals.

Shante Loethen, 18, said he probably wouldn’t have earned a diploma at Hickman High School without it.

“The CARE program kinda helped me graduate because it helped me get a job,” he said. Loethen was in a program at Hickman High School that required him to be employed to graduate. He went to school for several hours a day and then to work. Loethen said he needed to find a job fast, and CARE got him one.

Loethen, who has been working at Wilson’s Garden Center and Gift Shop for three months, said he chose gardening because he wanted to do something different every day. He does everything from watering flowers and plucking off dead leaves to assembling shelves and hammocks.

Wilson’s, owned by Chuck and Christine Bay, has been employing CARE participants for three months. Chuck Bay said it’s been a positive experience.

“I think it allows businesses to employ people they probably wouldn’t otherwise,” he said. “It also allows those kids to get job experience that they may not get otherwise.”

Employing youngsters does come with its challenges. “They’re young, so there’s a certain immaturity that can be expected,” Bay said.

For Sam Adekunle, 17, CARE offered a way to earn some money and have a more interesting summer. If it weren’t for his job at the Root Cellar, a grocery, deli and restaurant, Adekunle would be working out or sitting at home watching TV, he said. He said he plans to save some of the money he earns for college.

Co-owner Walker Claridge said the Root Cellar has hired CARE workers each of the past four years. He has seen the benefits and the challenges of being involved. One obvious benefit, he said, is free labor, but employing people for such a short time has its drawbacks.

“I think we have a tougher time with the program because we have to continuously train them, and then when they leave, all that training is gone,” he said.

The Root Cellar gave a CARE employee a permanent job last year. “We had to hire him, because he just knew too much,” Claridge said.

CARE also serves a purpose for teens looking for something to occupy their time.

Jasmyne McClanahan, a 14-year-old who works at Patricia Patrick’s Daycare, said she would be bored this summer if it weren’t for CARE. She said work experience also looks good on college applications.

“It will show that I’ve been responsible enough to get a job and earn someone’s trust,” she said.

McClanahan said the program helps kids get a taste of the real world. “It gives kids a chance to learn and see what adults see, and (to) see what it’s like getting up every day and coming to work,” she said.

Patricia Patrick, owner and operator of the child-care center, has been involved with the program for four or five years. She enjoys it because she can build relationships with the teenagers. She relies on them to spend time with children, to change diapers, to wash dishes and to help prepare lunch.

“If I had the opportunity when I was young, I would’ve been involved with the CARE program,” she said. “I think it’s a very good program, for the attitude and financially.”

McClanahan also noted that being lazy during the summer isn’t a good idea: “Sitting around and sleeping all day won’t get me anywhere.”

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