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Youths' stories differ, but have common threads

August 22, 2009|By ARNOLD PLATOU

HAGERSTOWN -- Jessica "Jessi" Foster had no plans a year ago when she "just stopped trying" and dropped out of North Hagerstown High School.

Then, she got pregnant -- and suddenly, "I had to grow up really fast," said Foster, 18.

And she has.

While caring for her new son, Aydan, Foster has earned a general equivalency diploma, she has a job and this fall, she will be going to Hagerstown Community College.

She owes much of this, she figures, to the staff at the Western Maryland Consortium and to a special program, funded with federal economic stimulus money it launched this summer to help youths from low-income families.

"I don't know how to put it," Foster said when asked her feelings about the Hagerstown-based work-force development agency. "Like, if it wasn't for me contacting them in the first place, I think I'd really be in big trouble with, like, no education, a new baby, no job. They help me a whole lot."

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The story of each of the youths helped by the consortium is different, but the theme running through them is the same.

"The majority of the kids have been very great success stories, from high school to higher education," said Deb Gilbert, case manager for youths at the consortium. "The best way to describe it is gratifying. It just makes you feel good all over. These youths, you watch them grow and turn into young adults.

"Good part, it only takes one to make it all worthwhile. And we have many, many this year."

Getting an opportunity

Derrick Green graduated from North High this year, but it wasn't until he got a job this summer that he knew for certain what he would like to do for the rest of his life.

The job, which he got through the consortium, has him working around the animals at the Humane Society of Washington County while cleaning kennels, doing laundry and other "get down dirty" tasks, he said with a gentle laugh.

"I'd love to try to get on here (full time) because it's something I would enjoy," said Green, 18. "Lots of people wake up in the morning, hate going to their job. But I don't."

Green said he's grateful to the consortium and its staff for pushing to hire so many youths, including him, this summer.

"It gets people opportunities -- people that can't get a job right away" because of the economy.

In a year or so, Green said, he would like to enroll at HCC and, eventually, earn a degree in zoology so he can work in a zoo.

The interest, enriched by this summer's job, seems to come naturally. His first pet "a long time ago" was a turtle named Shelby, and he already had four dogs, a cat and two kittens before coming to work at the shelter.

His love of animals is evident, co-workers said. That and the responsibilities he takes on are admirable, they said.

"He's great. He does everything I ask him," said Tracey Peter, animal care supervisor. "He steps up. I don't have to always tell him what he needs to do. He picks it up fairly well."

Is it hard when you get attached to an animal and then it must be euthanized?

"Sometimes, sometimes, you could say that you're helping them," Green said. "I wouldn't want to be sick for life."

Looking ahead to college

Tinisha Tennant struggled with reading until the eighth grade, when a teacher at E. Russell Hicks Middle School made a big difference.

So it was quite a moment this past year when Tennant, as a high school student, was helping to teach reading at an elementary school -- and that same teacher stopped by.

Now Tennant, who is 18 and graduated from North High this year, has her mind set on another big achievement -- she is going to HCC this fall and then on to a four-year college to graduate with a degree in education.

If so, she will be the first in her family to go so far.

"It feels really good," she said. "Hopefully, my brothers and sister will follow behind."

A lot of the credit for the path she's taking goes to the consortium, Tennant said.

This summer was her fourth working at community organizations through programs set up by the consortium.

The first summer, she said, she worked at Girls Inc., helping young girls learn.

"A lot of them had issues going on," she said. "I was about their age, so I could relate."

The past three summers, she has worked with children participating in programs at Memorial Recreation Center in Hagerstown.

Tennant "saw the need" and, this summer, helped create a special reading program there, said Loretta Wright, the center's new executive director.

"I have loved it there," Tennant said.

Her siblings -- one sister and three brothers -- are important to her. "Big responsibility," she said, explaining the oldest is a sophomore at North and the others are in middle school.

This summer, Tennant is working longer than usual at the recreation center because she's among the students the consortium is helping to get to college.

She's been told she can continue working through Sept. 30, when the consortium's extended summer jobs program closes, but her college classes are to begin Aug. 31.

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