The summer sun was already blazing overhead on a recent morning as a crew of city teens got to work beautifying Reading Iron Playground.
Donelle Lacey, 16, dipped a roller into a pan of green paint and carefully rolled it over the top of a concrete wall.
Just a few feet away, Denisse Rodriguez, 17, dipped a brush into a can of the same grass-colored paint and applied it to a bicycle rack before moving on to paint a park bench.
While Lacey and Rodriguez busily painted, Ryan Ovalle and Jose Jimenez used long-handled pickers to clear litter from the baseball field and play areas at the park on Laurel Street.
The teens are just four of the 26 participants in the city’s new youth intern program.
“We’re trying to create experiences for these kids, and still, you know, give them a job and put some money into the house and their pocket,” said Ken Miller, city training and recruiting coordinator.
Miller, who oversees the youth interns, said Mayor Eddie Moran came up with the idea of providing employment opportunities for the city’s high-school age residents as part of his initiative to help reduce youth violence.
The focus is on four areas of personal and professional development: leadership, financial literacy, academic exposure and professional networking.
The four-week pilot program began July 15 and will end with a graduation ceremony Friday.
The youths are paid $15 per hour and work 20 hours a week.
“These kids are really involved and are making great strides,” he said, noting he interviewed 40 young people before making his final cut.
Those selected were divided into crews of four or five and assigned to various city departments, including administration, public libraries and public works.
Lacey, Rodriguez, Ovalle and Jose Jimenez make up the public works team.
“I am all about opportunity,” Lacey said. “And I see this as an opportunity to learn and grow. So I took it.”
Lacey said he was inspired to apply by his mother, Seleda Simmons.
“I always shout out my mom,” he said. “The Real Deal 610.”
Simmons is executive director and founder of the Real Deal 610, a nonprofit that assists those recently discharged from prison and mental health and substance abuse programs, and others at risk or reentering society.
A junior at Reading High School, Lacey said he is undecided about his career but plans to attend college.
The program’s field trips have made the biggest impact on him, he said. So far, the group has visited the Reading Area Water Authority’s facilities and the city’s wastewater treatment plant.
“It’s very, very interesting how water works, how it gets cleaned and is processed through Reading,” he said.
The interns also toured Reading Area Community College, Alvernia University and Berks Technical Institute. Upcoming trips to local businesses and factories include a tour of Sweet Street Desserts, 722 Hiesters Lane.
College is not for everyone, Miller said, so he wants to make sure the interns are exposed to different avenues of employment.
Rodriguez said the internship introduced to her to various opportunities and is helping her gain workplace experience and build a resume.
A daughter of Santos and Michelle Rodriguez, the home-schooled senior also is college bound.
“My parents were the ones who encouraged me to do this,” she said. “I appreciate them helping me and encouraging me to do big things.”
Like Lacey, she found the wastewater treatment plant fascinating. Chemistry is one of her favorite subjects, and, though undecided, she is considering a career in the medical field.
The interns do more than go on field trips, Miller said.
The public works crew spends most of its time on environmental work and other projects under the supervision of Bethany Ayers Fisher, city sustainability manager; Carlos Torres, public properties manager; and Ryan Bradley, clean city coordinator.
Torres said the crew shows up on time each work day and jumps on whatever project is assigned
“Most of the kids are willing to learn, willing to do the work that is so much needed,” Torres said. “I would say on a grade of zero to 10, they’ve helped me a 10.”
Source: Berkshire mont