APG jobs let students earn while they learn


James Miller has a summer job lifting weights. At least that's the way he likes to look at it.

James, a 15-year-old student at Baltimore's Hamilton Middle School, works behind the scenes at Aberdeen Proving Ground's bowling center, unloading and stacking equipment, moving supplies around and cleaning the place.

"I like it. It's a lot like weightlifting," says James, who has been working at APG for three weeks.

"Besides," he says, "it's keeping me out of trouble. When I go home at night, I don't go anywhere. I just stay inside and maybe watch TV."

James is one of about 200 Baltimore youths employed in clerical and labor jobs at the base through Baltimore Commonwealth, a public-private partnership that offers education and career assistance to city students.

Another 35 youngsters arrive daily from Harford and Cecil counties to fill similar jobs, supported by the Susquehanna Region Private Industry Council, an organization of local business leaders.

All of the young men and women are from low-income families, and many of them live in "at-risk" environments, meaning the chances of their getting into trouble if left idle all summer are pretty good.

For many of them, this is their first encounter in the workplace. For APG, this marks the first summer of targeting disadvantaged youths in its seasonal jobs program.

"We like to think we're teaching the kids some good work habits as well as helping them make money," says Diane Siler of APG's Civilian Personnel Office. "This is a chance for them to be in a totally different environment, interacting with adults and learning what it's like to be part of the working world."

The students, ranging from 14 to 20 years old, work at 34 different sites throughout the Aberdeen and Edgewood areas of APG -- filing, moving furniture, painting and performing various other tasks.

They earn minimum wage, $4.25 an hour, and are generally paid for an eight-hour day. The jobs program, supported in part by a federal grant, started July 13 and lasts six weeks.

Jerome Napfel, 14, spends his days beside James at the APG Bowling Center, a recreational outlet for both military and civilian personnel at the base. Jerome, a student at Diggs-Johnson Middle School in southwest Baltimore, prefers cleaning and helping to repair the automatic pin-setting machines to unloading equipment.

"That's because I like to work with my hands," he says, adding that he's intrigued by the way the mechanical equipment is put together.

Over at the Finance Office of APG Support Activity, 18-year-old Delia Unthank spends the day filing papers, typing military pay lists, photocopying forms and running computer printouts.

It might seem tedious office work to some, but Delia, an aspiring business major at Virginia Union University in Richmond, considers it invaluable ground work for a career in management.

The Druid Hill resident says her typing speed has already improved and she's becoming fairly comfortable in front of the computer. Though she doesn't foresee a career track for herself at the military base -- her goal is fashion designing and consulting -- she says she's grateful for the experience.

"I'd like to come back next year if they'll have me."

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