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Kids from toughest areas in city learn how to get and keep a job


As part of a Bon Secours Baltimore Health System's employment program, Keyona Hough, 15, has learned to ask questions that will help her take charge of her financial future.

For the past year, she has attended the program at Bon Secours Community Support Center on North Fulton Avenue in Southwest Baltimore.

The program, founded by Bon Secours and local community groups, strives to help young people in some of the city's most troubled neighborhoods by teaching them about life and work.

Volunteers from local nonprofits and corporations help pass on job-training and practical knowledge to the more than 35 youngsters who participate.

Volunteers such as Lorisa L. Stewart, a branch manager at Provident Bank, explain the intricacies of opening a savings account and the importance of adhering to a weekly budget. The volunteer advisers also answer questions about career and finances posed by Keyona Hough and her peers.

"I don't really want a credit card, but it seems like you have to have one. Why is that?" asked Hough last week at one of the group's financial planning meetings.

Stewart nodded, then answered. "In life there are things you have to purchase where you have to ask somebody for more money than is in your pocket."

Keyona Hough, who dreams of attending a culinary school, is one of 35 young people in the first class to go through the youth employment program, which began in June 1999.

The program doesn't guarantee a job, said its director Jeneanne Collins, but participants can learn how to get a job and keep one, while building assets.

The youngsters, Collins said, are drawn mostly from Southwest Baltimore, and mostly by word-of-mouth through community groups and churches.

Volunteers like Stewart contribute their knowledge and offer real-world advice. Last week, the banker taught seven youngsters about the importance of saving and helped them open an account at Provident.

The young people participate in eight workshop-type sessions once or twice a weekly, and work on developing personal goals, preparing for job interviews, fine-tuning resumes and learning how to "dress for success."

The second part of the program - financial planning - helps the students plan what to do with their money once they get jobs. Since this is the first group to go through the program, they have yet to reach its final phase: post-high school and career planning. At the end of last week's session, Stewart gave line-by-line directions on how to fill out the Provident savings account form, reminding them to press down firmly.

Antoine Taylor, 14, was ready to open up his first savings account with $1.35.

"It's better than nothing," said Taylor, who will start working this fall as a counselor at an after-school program for elementary and middle school youths at House of Mercy on Holland Street. He vowed to start saving for a car and for college. "I want to go to UMBC and become a pediatrician," he said.

One key measurement of its success so far, Collins said, is that most of the youngsters have found jobs. She credits the program's adult mentors who talk to the youngsters about such things as on-the-job behavior and how to file income taxes.

Collins said the program also builds greater self respect and at the same time battles stereotypes of inner-city young people.

'More confident'

Assertiveness is one intangible asset the youths pick up as the program progresses, according to Stewart and Collins.

"I feel I can be more confident and not be afraid," said Andiron Smith, 17, who's going to be a senior at Southwestern High School. He found a job in customer service at the Giant supermarket in Edmondson Village.

While Smith isn't sure of his career path, the program has taught him to be persistent - and to dress well if he hopes to make a good impression, he said.

After they go through the job-preparation sessions, Collins advises each youngster on employment and takes him on field trips to Harborplace where they can apply for work.

Praise for accountant

One participant, Gail Mosley, 17, has worked at the Stop, Shop and Save at North Avenue and Broadway after interviewing with the store manager a year ago.

Mosley, who hopes to attend Howard University, said one of the most helpful sessions was when an accountant came in "to teach us about liabilities and assets, and owning our own business."

The group will take its next step Sept. 11, when a financial adviser from American Express Financial Services will help them develop weekly budget and savings plans, Collins said. And the program will take in a fresh batch of 35 to 40 young people as it kicks off a new session three days later.

As for Keyona Hough, she's set to start a job at a day-care center this month. Stewart, the Provident manager, had told her of the opening. "I thought, 'Was she going to follow up?' " said Stewart.

"She did."

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