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Program helps youth get a jump on work

August 03, 1997

By DAVE McMILLION

Staff Writer

Marvin High and his co-workers were tackling the seemingly straightforward task of trimming limbs away from the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal near McMahon's Mill when things suddenly took a different turn.

When High reached to cut one of the limbs, a black snake that had been wrapped around the branch tumbled out and landed on the 17-year-old Hagerstown youth.

But it didn't faze the group of kids in this year's Summer Youth Employment Training Program, a federally funded project designed to give work experience to the disadvantaged.

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Even the most grueling tasks have not foiled the group.

A week ago, the five youths were told to help tear down an abandoned house near McMahon's Mill. They started by tearing drywall out of the house, bagging it and dragging it down a hill to waiting trucks.

The boys then removed windows and tore down a screen porch while National Park Service workers helped demolish the rest of the house with chainsaws, said John Rowland of the Western Maryland Consortium, which runs the project.

Marcel Campbell, 17, of Hagerstown, called the demolition an "exciting experience."

"You could bust up a house and not get in trouble," said Campbell.

About 350 kids are involved in the program this summer, and they are working at public schools, agencies and parks throughout Washington County, said Peter P. Thomas, executive director of the Western Maryland Consortium, which provides job training and education to such disadvantegd adults as welfare recipients and school dropouts.

The idea behind the Summer Youth Employment Training Program is to give disadvantaged youths a good summer job that will provide them with a positive work experience that they can draw on as they enter the work force as adults, Thomas said.

Without the summer youth program, most of the kids participating "aren't going to have a prayer of finding a summer job," said Thomas.

Youths aged 14 to 21 earn $4.75 an hour working at maintenance, clerical and other similar jobs through the program, which is funded by $1 million from the federal government, he said.

The work program, which has been in existence for 25 years, is offered in Washington, Alleghany and Garrett counties, and this year involves 809 youths across the region.

To be eligible, students have to be a member of a family whose income is below the federal poverty level.

The month-long program, which concludes next week, offers transportation to workers, although many of the kids get to work by themselves or with a parent, Thomas said.

"I see them in the morning when I come in riding their bikes to work," said Thomas, who coordinates the program along with Susanne Bikle and Debbie Gilbert.

A majority of the kids are from poverty-level families, but developmentally disabled youths are eligible too. At Thomas' office on Washington Street, Sam Thuahnai, a 16-year-old deaf student from the Maryland School for the Deaf is doing clerical work.

An employee at the office is able to communicate with Thuahnai with sign language, but a lot of his time is spent on the computer doing data entry, where he is a "whiz," said Thomas.

"People can so easily communicate by computers these days (and) that's a way to break that barrier," said Thomas.

The youths said they would be spending the summer watching television and rollerblading if it weren't for the program. They said they have saved their money to buy school clothes and to put toward the purchase of cars.

Alex Miglin, 16, of Hagerstown, one of the youths working on the C&O Canal, said he likes his job because it helps "keep me out of trouble."

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