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Young people learn how to get, hold a job

By PAUL SWIDER
Published May 9, 2007


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He was a young man on the edge and wary of fighting, hanging out with the wrong people and seeing his friends and family landing in trouble. His only option was to pursue a new opportunity.

"If I hadn't tried this, I think I probably would have ended up in jail, " said James Moore, 18, a product of Project Bridge, a Goodwill Industries-Suncoast program that helps at-risk youth learn how to be employable. "My cousins are in jail. I had another chance. They didn't."

Now in college, Moore works in a restaurant to help his single mother support the family. He is one of about 320 young people who have gone through the Bridge program. Of those, more than 100 have found jobs, said Michael Ann Harvey, Goodwill's spokeswoman.

"We try to give at-risk youth exposure to possible careers so they have something to set their sights on, " Harvey said of the program funded by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Project Bridge is holding a symposium Friday to introduce more young people to employers and begin teaching them how to find jobs. The event, at the Royal Theatre, at 1011 22nd St. S, is also for businesses that often have difficulty keeping their rosters filled.

"We get a lot of college kids who move on, " said Jim Sweet, the president of Freedom Financial, a Pinellas Park consumer lender that has hired Bridge graduates. "Some people stay a long time; some don't."

Sweet says he needs to fill at least half a dozen customer service jobs, which can pay $9 an hour plus bonuses. He said he has had success with his Bridge candidates. He will speak Friday and tell candidates what such entry-level positions can mean.

"We're just a small lender, but this might lead you to one of the big dogs, " he said. "You can be somebody."

Bridge participants spend a year with a caseworker learning how to interview, prepare a resume, even dress. They gain skills but can also receive tuition help for higher education.

The youth must be referred to the program by social service agencies, but any employer is welcome to participate. About a half dozen have since the program started in late 2005, Harvey said.

Employers can get a free trial through the program, as Sweet has done. Bridge participants can earn $350 for a 60-hour internship with an employer, meaning the youth can get some money and experience while the employer has a risk-free evaluation. Many get hired.

Harvey said the program appeals mostly to high-growth industries including manufacturing, construction, retail, transportation and telecommunications.

Moore said he has now gotten a high school equivalency diploma and is enrolled at St. Petersburg College in business administration. He intends to get a bachelor's degree and then start an auto repair business. He credits his choice but also the existence of the Bridge. "Everything they told me, they held up to their word, " Moore said. "They helped me when nobody else would."

Paul Swider can be reached at 892-2271 or pswider@sptimes.com or by participating in itsyourtimes.com.

Fast Facts:

Youth Connections Symposium

Royal Theatre

1011 22nd St. S

10 a.m. Friday

Youth participants must be recommended by social service agencies, but all employers are welcome. Interested businesses should contact Sandra Lewis at 727 523-1512, ext. 1261, or e-mail sandra.lewis@ goodwill-suncoast.com.

[Last modified May 8, 2007, 20:46:07]


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