Purchase and Pennyrile, Ky. – The economic stimulus plan has made finding summer work a little easier for area young people, with a Summer Works Program slating 600 youth worker jobs in 17 Western Kentucky counties. Summer Works also gives a boost to participating businesses: the workers' wages are paid by the project, at no cost to the work site. Still, more than 240 jobs are yet available. Jacque Day has the story.
At the time of this report, the program still has open slots in Fulton, Graves, Hopkins, Marshall, McCracken, and Muhlenberg Counties.
West Kentucky Workforce Investment Board
It hearkens to the Work Projects Administration of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal era during the Great Depression, the WPA employed millions and touched nearly every region of the United States. Today, federal stimulus dollars give two 18-year-old graduates of Ballard Memorial High School the opportunity to work close to home, and outdoors largely, at the Wickliffe Mounds State Historic Site in Ballard County.
"My name's Gregg Gordon, and I'm from here in Wickliffe, Kentucky. My neighbor works for the county in one of the offices and she came over one day and said, there were job opportunities open for anyone ages 18 to 24."
"My name is Steven Mix. I'm from Barlow, Kentucky. I have heard stories. I heard that it'd be hard for teenage kids to get jobs this summer during the economic downturn and everything. But the Summer Works program really helped us out."
Summer Works, funded by nearly $2 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, has slated 600 jobs for young people throughout 17 counties in the Purchase and Pennyrile region. The program helped these two college-bound teens ward off a potentially stressful search for summer income.
Gregg Gordon says, before finding this job he put in numerous applications in Paducah, more than 30 miles away. Summer Works was the first to call him back. Now he's working within two miles of home, saving time and gasoline. They started the job within the last week, but already Steven Mix says, he's learning about the rich Native American history of the Mounds, and meeting people from all over the world.
"The first day we worked here, we had like 66 people come, I think is what it was, from all over the world. We had somebody come from El Salvador, Texas, Australia, everywhere."
The project isn't just benefiting workers. It's also providing much-needed assistance to businesses. Rana Sullivan is the Workforce Investment Act youth coordinator for of the Purchase Area Development District.
"There's no cost to the business. The youth get paid $8 an hour, and that is covered by our office. We also take care of worker's compensation for the worksite."
For places like Wickliffe Mounds, which run on tight budgets, the help couldn't come at a better time.
"We are hoping that having these workers here will help us attain one of our very important goals, and that is to have a great first impression for visitors who come into our park gates. We need the help with just attending to the park, and so these summer youth workers are doing a great job already, and it's day two."
This is Carla Hildebrand, Wickliffe Mounds Park Manager.
"The first noticeable thing about the economic downturn for Wickliffe Mounds has been the drop in school tours. We've just seen a dramatic decrease over the last year or so."
Hildebrand says, Gordon and Mix will get a range of assignments through their summer tour at the Mounds.
"They're going to have experience with the actual maintenance and upkeep and groundskeeping of a state park. But they're also going to be experiencing working with visitors."
That variety of experience is one goal of the Summer Works Program, says Rana Sullivan.
"They have to be able to give these youths meaningful work experience. They're supposed to teach them to do tasks properly. They're supposed to treat them as other employees."
And, Sullivan says, they're looking at this program to breathe some life back into the region.
"As far as the region goes we're getting people out there working. And for the age group, $8 per hour seems to be pretty good for them. So we're hoping they'll go back out into their communities in the Purchase Area and stimulate the economy."
So who's eligible for a Summer Works job? Anyone between ages 18 and 24 who live in the Purchase or Pennyrile regions.
"We've had some participants that have graduated or are in college, some that have just graduated from high school, some that have just obtained their GED so it's open to all levels."
As for Gregg Gordon and Steven Mix, Park Manager Carla Hildebrand says they're doing a great job, and they'll have plenty to do this summer. Even though school visits are down, she says, Wickliffe Mounds is seeing a healthy surge of travelers taking in the local sights.
So far, hundreds of young people have gone to work for government agencies, schools, senior citizen centers, nursing homes and recycling centers throughout the area. But Sullivan says, there's more opportunity for workers and worksites to take advantage of Summer Works. The project runs from June through September 15, and hiring is expected to continue through July.