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Stimulus money puts 300 kids to work
Four million dollars in federal economic stimulus funds have given 1,000 kids in Stanislaus County a summer job. Three hundreds of those jobs were filled by Project YES, the Ceres Unified School District's youth employment agency.

Ceres officials scrambled to put together a program in two months, hired five staff members and began seeking out interested employers to participate. Youth Advisor Jennifer Valdez said it was easy to get applicants through flyers and word of mouth.

"There's so many teens who want summer jobs," said Valdez. "We actually got 500 to 550 applications."

Applicants had to meet class qualifications or meet the low-income family qualifications. Since there were more applications than jobs, students were tapped in order of when applications were submitted.

Students were paired up with a job that best fit their interest level based on a survey. Those hired through the CUSD program were plugged into jobs at 104 work sites all over the county and monitored by four advisors. Jobs range from helping out in the classrooms to maintenance workers for the cities of Ceres and Turlock to office clerk positions and working with animals at veterinarians.

There's been few problems.

"Some of the younger ones didn't know what went into working certain hours, that it involved some weekends, some nights and they were maybe not ready for that and just quit," said Valdez. "But that's maybe four or five. Or they got fired because they weren't performing well. It's been a very low number."

Students began working as early as June 8 and funding will end at the end of August. The grant pays the wages of each student up to 32 hours a week at $8 an hour.

Approximately 15 jobs sites are at churches or other faith-based organizations. Harvest Presbyterian Church took five of the teens and first put them to work working on neglected landscaping at Ceres Christian Terrace, an elderly care facility in town. Church deacon Marlin Sena supervised the work of Adrian Arellano, Daniel Padilla, Kayla Pinedo, Kerri White and Garrett Deering.

"They trimmed, mowed and pulled weeds," said Sena. "The kids were awesome. It was their first work experience. They were kids. If I sat down they thought they could and I said, 'It doesn't work that way.'"

Once the work there was done the students were used to do manual projects around the church. Sena then transferred the kids to Believers Family Church for jobs. The church started out with two students but now has 11 working. Last week Pastor Jeff Hilbert had the students working on a Stillwater Lane house in need of repairs.

"They really try hard," said Hilbert. "This is all new to them so they have a lot of questions on what to do on their jobs."

Hilbert put Monique Pollard, 21, of Keyes, to work supervise the small army of workers because he found her responsible. "When I come around the corner she's always working," said Hilbert.

Pollard said she never painted a house before this job.

"I like to learn new things," Pollard said. "I can't wait to buy a house now."

Hilbert was equally impressed how Garrett Deering, 21, was sticking to the thankless job of removing tile mortar from the concrete floor of the remodel job - without complaining.

The crew plans to next paint Missionary Baptist on Mitchell Road.

Hilbert's crew reports for work at 6 a.m. weekday. Kaylee Donovan, 14, of Ceres, said if she hadn't got her job she'd probably sleep most of her summer days away.

"I'd be sleeping all day until 4," she said. Instead she was climbing a ladder to paint the eves of the house.

Adrian Arellano, 14, of Ceres, said he had plans to use his first paycheck courtesy of the federal stimulus package to buy an iPod and some shoes.

Not all were happy about their job assignments. Adam Keb, 17, was crowded out of a job at Food 4 Less because too many wanted to work there. Ceres resident Kerrie White, 15, wanted to work with children, not paint houses. Pollard, too, hoped to get work at a rehabilitation center but said she finds satisfaction is doing a job well at the end of the day. But Hilbert said the students are seeing the point in not getting what they wanted.

"I think they're learning what they don't want to do in life," he said. "They're seeing the importance of getting a good education so they can do what they want in life."