The Largo High School auditorium recently was packed with about 500 teenagers and young adults, all of whom were waiting for summer job assignments, when Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III walked into the bustling room to offer a pep talk.
“Who is looking forward to not asking their parents for money?” Baker (D) asked the students, who responded, “Yes!”
Baker added: “We hope that this work will be a rewarding experience and that you learn a lot and walk away with more than money in your pocket.”
Nearly 3,000 young people are participating in the six-week Youth@Work program that began June 25. The program served about 400 youths when it launched in 2012, and it grew to 1,000 in 2013 and 2,500 last year.
“We are excited that we have been able to expand the program over the years,” said Baker, who walked into the auditorium wearing a polo shirt from High Point High School in Beltsville, his alma mater. “Our goal was to increase the number each year, and our mark was to get to the 3,000 jobs.”
Stephanye R. Maxwell, director of the Prince George’s County Office of Human Resources Management, oversees the program. She said it has been challenging to increase the number of students hired every year.
“We have been working to make this a model youth employment/enrichment program in the region,” said Maxwell, who added that the reason they could offer between 2,700 and 3,000 jobs this year was because of their effort to recruit new companies. Those include businesses, churches and a variety of government and quasi-government entities, such as the schools and the police department.
As the students fanned out to their respective jobs, many of them talked about landing their first job and where they are now working. Kawai Mathews, a 17-year-old senior at Oxon Hill High School who is working at a local school, said, “I am very excited about being part of this program.”
Deonja James, a senior at Potomac High School, said working this summer means that “I get job experience and money in my pocket.”
Maryland State Del. Darryl Barnes (D-District 25) didn’t wait for the students to get placed into jobs to start teaching them about making a good impression on the job.
He stopped Leonard Akoji and said, “Take advantage of this opportunity and learn as much as you can.” When the young man agreed with a soft handshake, Barnes corrected him.
“Shaking hands and making eye contact is a form of respect,” Barnes said. “Shaking hands is also a sign of confidence.”