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E. Ky. job program gets a boost

PIKEVILLE — An Eastern Kentucky employment program has received $6 million in federal funding that will allow it to more than quadruple the size of its summer job programs for young people.

The Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program will use the money from the federal economic stimulus bill to pay for six weeks' salary at $7.25 an hour for 2,100 students and 900 non-students between the ages of 16 and 24.

Last summer, the program paid for about 450 jobs.

Mike Long, co-owner of Long's Pic Pac supermarket and Long's Floral and More stores in Pineville, expects to hire six employees for the summer program.

"This particular program works well for us because it's like on-the-job training," he said. "I would say 80 percent of the time, we actually hire most of them, and they have after-school and weekend jobs later on."

He said he treats the young people like regular employees, expecting the same level of responsibility.

Some of those in the program might be considered "at-risk" because of their family's income or home life, Long said.

"It's pretty big for them to become part of a team, and feel like someone cares about them."

Dan Hendrickson, 18, was a beneficiary of one of the jobs last summer. He said it helped open his eyes to the possibility of college and a career path.

The Bell County High School senior worked at Yellow Creek Elementary School's youth service center, which organizes summer camps and provides other services for kids.

"It was a really good experience," said Hendrickson, who continued working with the office after the summer ended.

Because of his experience, Hendrickson said, he plans to go to Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tenn., to study family and consumer sciences, and he wants to teach children life skills.

If not for the summer job program, "I would never have known this kind of job existed," he said.

"There are really good mentoring kinds of relationships that are created" in these job programs, said Jeff Whitehead, executive director for the program. He said the agency's youth programs aim to teach about work ethic, etiquette, timeliness and conflict-resolution skills.

The Let's Go 2 Work program is geared to full-time students who need summer jobs, but it also includes non-students who fit certain age and income requirements.

Past employers have included private, non-profit and public-sector jobs, including state parks, school systems, retail stores, legal or veterinary offices, and hospitals.

"Getting a lot of kids busy can cure a lot of the social ills we're faced with," Whitehead said.