JOBS for AMERICA'S GRADUATES

Summer Work in Michigan

For many high school students it’s tough to find summer work. It’s a competitive job market and many businesses prefer to hire workers who are older. That’s one of the advantages of being involved in a JAG program. The Job Specialists can assist in helping students find work both during the school year and during the summer. The JAG students from Benton Harbor High School in Michigan were able to take advantage of a work opportunity through JAG this summer.

Drivers in Benton Harbor saw young adults, the majority JAG students in the Michigan Department of Transportation summer employment program working on the streets in Benton Harbor, including Main Street. The students would be working on side streets around Main Street clearing bridges, road right-of-ways and overgrowth according to Don Marshall, the manager of the MDOT Youth Development and Mentoring Program through Kinexus in Benton Harbor.

He said there isn’t enough work on Main Street alone to keep 40 people busy four days a week through the summer. “If you do the job right, it will take those 40 people about 10 days and it will be done,” he said during a recent meeting of the Benton Harbor Downtown Development Authority. “We’ve identified some very, very dire needs in the area,” he said. “My vision is to clear roadway right-of-ways. Clear guardrail areas that people haven’t seen in 20 years. There are bridge abutment areas where you don’t realize there’s a bridge.” Part of his job, he said, is to give the youth motivation and a vision.

Marshall said the youth can only work on roads that federal money has been used because the program is funded by MDOT in partnership with the Federal Highway Administration. “We can’t touch any private property,” he said. He said he would also like to get the community involved.

Jason Latham, southwest region manager of MDOT in Kalamazoo, said this is the fifth year MDOT has had Kinexus operate the program. He’s glad Marshall and the students are also working on the side streets. “We’ve always wanted to clear some of the other public right-of-ways,” he said. For the past two years, he said the youth have also helped MDOT conduct a “bounce and scatter” study to see what the optimal speed is for truck to disperse road salt.

On Monday three of the JAG students said they are glad they have jobs where they get to help their community. “It’s not always about the paycheck,” said Daquoriell Sterling, 19, of Benton Harbor. “It’s about helping the environment.” He said this is the third year in the summer employment program. He said he will be a sophomore this fall at Southwestern Michigan College in Dowagiac studying computer graphics.

Joniqua Huddleston, 17, of Benton Harbor said she is learning a lot during her first year with the program. Zaria Taylor, 16, of Ben-ton Harbor agreed. “I’m learning how to use different tools for different tasks,” she said. Huddleston and Taylor will both be juniors at Benton Harbor High School this fall and will continue to participate in the Benton Harbor JAG program.

The MDOT program ties in the JAG hallmark of community service as well as work experience.