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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Jobs Program Gives Brevard At-Risk Teens an Edge

Florida Today

"Let's go. It's time. Put your phone away," Roy Kearse said to the group of boys, mostly 16 and 17, as the clock struck 9 a.m. at The Monroe Center.

On tap for the day: pressure-washing the center's walls and painting an outdoor hallway connecting two of the buildings of the historic all-black high school that now houses Brevard Health Alliance and other social service groups.

Under Kearse's guidance, the boys have learned this summer how to trim trees, clear brush, landscape and put down new mulch in garden spots around the courtyards.

"They learn," Kearse said. "You can always make some money doing lawn maintenance in Florida. It's an honest day's pay for honest work."

Kearse, who is a facilities manager for the Child Care Association's properties, one of which is The Monroe Center, was brought together with the eight boys in a jobs program targeting at-risk youth. The program wraps up today and the eight teens hope their new skills land them jobs despite tough times for teens and summer jobs.

Jobs for young people have been more difficult to come by in recent years as the economic downturn causes many to be edged out by older, laid-off workers.

Weed & Seed, a youth anti-crime organization, put 13 youths in summer jobs and paid them $7.25 hourly. To get the jobs, they completed two earlier programs where they learned appropriate job behavior, how to write resumes and fulfilled volunteer hours.

Weed & Seed Director Delores McLaughlin paired the boys with Kearse to learn landscaping and lawn maintenance at The Monroe Center. The historic building has signs of wear and tear. Child Care Association relies on volunteers in addition to Kearse's professional services, and McLaughlin saw a perfect match for the jobs program and the association's need for volunteers.

They have been put to work on tree and shrub care. The boys point out palm trees they trimmed and a bush in the back parking lot so overgrown the fence disappeared.

"There was a lot of stuff messed up with this building," said Jaquan Harvey, 16, while he and Travis Hartley, 17, hauled an extra hose from across the street for pressure washing. The boys learned how to paint, use power and hedge-cutting tools and how to perform proper lawn mower maintenance.

Hartley said that should give him an edge when applying for a job.

"They won't have to waste time showing me how to use the tools," he said.

They also learned job responsibility: showing up on time, working hard and working with others.

"I told them from day one, if you're having a bad day, let me know. I don't like being hard on them. They're still young men. But they have to learn to leave the attitude at the door," Kearse said.