By Paula Schleis
Beacon Journal staff writer
The flecks of red paint on their uniform vests and bare hands mean many things to nine youngsters working for the city this summer.
It means a new Chromebook for King James Mills and some fashionable school clothes for Kate Allen and Alyssia Jackson, who are making plans for their paychecks.
It means valuable experience added to a resume that is understandably thin for a teenager.
It means satisfaction that can only come with waking up to a mission every morning, and falling asleep after a job well done every night.
The red paint means something to the residents of Stow as well: It now covers more than 100 neighborhood fire hydrants.
Stow is among a handful of communities and business owners who are taking part in the TANF Summer Youth Work Experience Program. The eight-week work program is administered by Summit County Jobs and Family Services to give job experience to low-income youngsters, but was expanded last year to reach low-income youngsters who are also served by the Summit County Developmental Disabilities Board.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Stow requested the Summit County DD kids. After all, this is where Mayor Sara Kline, who understands the challenges of raising a special-needs daughter, created a Disabilities Commission to give voice to an often-overlooked segment of the community.
Kline complimented the city’s new seasonal workers, who are several weeks into their jobs.
“They are the most dedicated workers. They have gotten so much done,” she said.
At the Summit County DD, community support director Drew Williams was more than happy to take Kline’s call looking for painters.
“Mayor Kline is a huge supporter and collaborator with the board. This is the second year she reached out to us and said she had a need for students,” he said.
Matt Magaw and Taylor McWilliams-Woods — two of the on-site job coaches — say they’ve seen growing momentum among communities and businesses in employing people with disabilities.
Youngsters of all abilities need to make that transition from high school to gainful employment, and businesses benefit from having a diverse and inclusive workforce, Magaw said.
Magaw is a career coordinator with Koinonia, a nonprofit that operates group homes. McWilliams-Woods is employed by Community Connections, a Stow-based day program for adults with disabilities. Their organizations are among a handful charged with finding program participants.
“I’ve seen a lot of improvement” in youngsters who are given a chance to prove themselves on the job, McWilliams-Woods said. Among other things, they learn to focus longer and stay on a task until it’s finished.
On Tuesday, King James Mills, 18, of Akron, rested under the shade of a devil strip tree on Seminole Circle to talk about his experience after painting three hydrants..
He’s had other jobs, including washing dishes. His current duties in Stow include clerical work when the weather is too poor to paint outside. But he prefers days like Tuesday, when mild temperatures and blue skies allowed him to pop open the paint cans.
“Painting is my favorite,” he said between bites of a sandwich.
Kate Allen, 19, of Cuyahoga Falls, said she likes when residents and sidewalk travelers stop to admire her handiwork on the fire hydrants.
“They tell us ‘Good job!’ and stuff like that,” Kate said.
The students earn $9.25 an hour for a 20-hour work week.
Jobs & Family Services pays for the wages (about $105,000 total this summer). Summit DD pays for the job coaches and transportation (about $185,000, coming from operating dollars that are funded by a local levy.)
Overall, there are 40 Summit County DD students involved in this year’s program, working for employers that include the City of Akron, Big Lots, Circle K, K-Mart, Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank, Summit County Metro Parks, Mature Services and Wyant Woods Care Center.
To be eligible, the students must be between the ages of 14 and 24 and live with a family that has an income at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.