Florida Keys News
Sunday, June 23, 2013
Summer program gives kids real job experience

In a small, windowless classroom at Key West High School, a group of students is prepping up for a new experience for most of them: a job interview.

It's 1 p.m. Friday, and the students, ranging in age from 16 to 18, are receiving instructions from their job coach Paul Davis on how to land -- and keep -- the summer positions for which they'll soon be applying, with the city of Key West, the Boys & Girls Club of the Florida Keys, and the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity.

It's all part of the "Idle Hands" summer job placement project, an offshoot of A Positive Step of Monroe County youth advocacy group founded by Key Wester Billy Davis -- no relation to Paul Davis.

At the end of the classroom session, students who have stuck it out for the entire first week of instructions will be rewarded with a $50 debit card to spend anyway they like. At the end of next week, when representatives of the employers come to speak, they'll get another card in the amount of $75 -- and a hearty "good luck" from Paul Davis, a Key West High School teacher during the year.

Then it's off to their interviews, wearing conservative clothes, sensible shoes, not too much makeup or cologne, and sucking on breath mints.

By the end of the summer, they'll have learned a thing or two about the organizations for which they worked, been paid for their efforts, and garnered another line on their so-far lean resumes.

For their part, the city, Habitat, and Boys & Girls Club, will have enjoyed a little extra help from students trained by the program to keep their noses to the grindstone.

It's a win-win situation for the community, made possible by Billy Davis' efforts to keep as many kids as possible in work.

"It started in 2011 when we discovered that the South Florida Workforce Agency wasn't going to be doing a youth summer employment program anymore," said Davis. "The Boys & Girls Club was also affected by the Workforce decision. So we decided to try to do our own. During our first year we managed to find work for eight kids. Last year, we had 27."

This year, 19 students are taking part, using a job-hunting curriculum from a similar program in Baltimore. "More kids are participating in summer school this year, I think," Davis said.

The program's main sponsor is the city of Key West, which provides $34,000 in youth employment funds to pay the students' salaries, and bus passes. During the two weeks spent in the classroom, Winn-Dixie provides lunch and refreshments.

The program is small, but Davis hopes that it will keep growing.

"Many of these kids have never had a job at all," he said. "With this program, they'll make $8 an hour, working five hours a day, and get paid every two weeks. It's good experience and keeps them busy. They see the benefits of coming here."

The students seem to agree.

"I'm learning here," said Averie Rivas, 17, a Key West High School student who's heading into his senior year. "We're all learning some good tips on how to get a job, things that I never knew. It really beats being at home all summer."

Rivas, a Key West native who recently moved back from Orlando, heard about the program from his little brother, and decided that working at the Boys & Girls Club would be a good experience.

"I have a very outgoing personality, and I like working hands-on with people, so I think it's a good fit for me," Rivas said. "Honestly, I think this is a great program, and I'd do it again next year if I could."

Though the program is already in full swing, Billy Davis said the program has room for three more kids if they can start at 10 a.m. Monday.

For more information, or to apply, call 305-304-1969.

tschmida@keysnews.com

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