During the past seven weeks, 200 low-income District youths have held full-time summer jobs in private businesses and institutions around town, gaining first-hand experience in fields from printing to architecture and law.
The jobs, which end tomorrow, are part of the eight-week Vocational Exploration Program (VEP), funded by the city's Youth Employment for the Summer (YES) program.
Last Friday, the interns and business representatives met at Dunbar High School for a highlight of the program, Career Day, which provided an opportunity for both to make contacts. The VEP interns were particularly curious about requirements for entering the various fields.
Judge John D. Fauntleroy of the D.C. Superior Court, guest speaker for the day, told the interns, "Set your sights high; the higher the better. If you do that, you'll succeed."
The YES program allots VEP $200,000 in CETA Title IV grants each year to administer the program and pay the youths' minimum-wage trainee stipends.
Started in 1977 as an offshoot of a similar program begun in St. Louis, the vocational program has helped college and college-bound students from the inner city make contacts and gain experience needed to compete in the job market.
Allen Cork, a 21-year-old VEP intern who works for radio station WKYS' sales-promotion department gathering information for advertising, said, "I've seen the reality of radio. I see now that there can be no deejay without the sales person."
VEP intern Gina Best, 20, works at Carlton's Mechanical Contractors as an assistant in the accounting department. "It's been a great experience," she says. "Now I know that this kind of work is what I want to do."
A VEP intern with the Hechinger Company Sales Department, Steven Spencer, said, "I've learned how to sell different gardening materials, plumbing equipment and hardware, and how to implement marketing and customer relations techniques."
Spencer, 21, a business management major at Howard University, adds, "My training at Hechinger gives me inspiration to work harder. It's given me experience working in a very competitive business atmosphere."
The interns applied for their jobs through the YES program, and aside from their work, they were also given tips on how to get the most from their experience before they reported to work.
Archie Childs, VEP coordinator, said he and his staff "sent the interns through seminars on discipline, employe-employer relationships and adherence to work schedules."
In addition, the 65 companies and institutions involved in the program interviewed the VEP interns interested in their respective trainee positions.
The interns were on the job four days a week and on Fridays heard professionals lecture on their occupations. They also participated in seminars on resume writing, job-hunting techniques, self-awareness and black history.
"The lectures and seminars were very stimulating," said intern Best, 20. "You could see all of us beaming with inspiration after the discussions and lectures."
VEP is one of few programs in the city designed to help local youths explore the many professional career opportunities in the metropolitan area.
As intern Alan Cork assessed the value of his VEP training, "You can grow up in the streets of Washington, D.C., and, as crazy as it sounds, not get an understanding of how things really are. VEP gives us the key to open many doors that otherwise never open for us."