For 17-year-old Tikesha Trent, the choice between a summer of sleeping late and watching TV or a summer of weeding, painting and mulching was easy.
The Dundalk High School senior said she knew that dozing and watching talk shows wouldn't help her open a bank account.
LTC So for the fourth year in a row, Tikesha threw away the chance to loaf and joined 100 other youths yesterday at the Carver Center for Arts and Technology in Towson to start her six-week summer job at $4.25 an hour. The young people will be assigned to various job sites throughout the summer.
The Summer Jobs Program, operated by Baltimore County's Department of Community Development and Office of Employment and Training since 1982, will employ 1,000 youths this year with $1.5 million in federal funds and a small state stipend.
"I heard about it through school and decided I needed money during the summer time," said Tikesha, who was waiting with other teens to collect her summer uniform -- steel-toed work boots, a bright yellow hard hat, fluorescent orange vest and T-shirt.
"This job basically gives you responsibilities and shows you that you don't have to depend on anybody for money. You can make your own and do what you want with it," she said. "I used to buy school clothes with my money, but I really want to start a bank account this year."
But program counselors hope teens walk away with more than cash.
"Our philosophy is to help youth find employment, to encourage them to stay in school and to prevent any loss of their academic skills during their summer vacation," said Louise Pontius, the program's employment and training counselor. "We teach them job skills that they might want to pursue for future professions like secretarial work, auto technology, culinary arts or custodial work.
"It's like starting a huge corporation that only runs for six weeks," Ms. Pontius said. "We interview, test and hire about 1,000 employees. We train them, work with them, then let them go at the end of six weeks -- only to start the process over again for next year's teens. It's a grueling, but rewarding job."
Last year, the summer jobs program received the Job Training Partnership Act Presidential Award for its "outstanding academic enrichment programs." But for many nonprofit organizations and government agencies, it means help they couldn't afford otherwise.
"It's gotten to a point where certain agencies would die without our help," said Vernon Turner, a Dundalk Middle School teacher and program crew counselor. "For example, my kids will be painting four Head Start classrooms this summer. It would be so costly for them to take care of it themselves, so they provide the paint and we provide the manpower. It's a great program -- and besides, some of these kids are just pros at painting."
Participants in the program must come from economically disadvantaged families, have physical or mental disabilities or be in foster care. For those who score two grades below normal levels on standardized reading and math tests, there are three hours of remedial classes every day -- with pay.