Funding for the Youth Employment Program is provided by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which made $42,000 available as a grant to the Downtown Dover Partnership, which passed it to the DHA. The housing authority put up another $10,000.

Area teens looking to get a jump on learning vital job skills before they graduate high school are getting a hand from the Dover Housing Authority.

The Youth Employment Program for Employers will kick off in January, said Ami Sebastian-Hauer, executive director of the DHA.

“It’s a short-term program designed to target low- and moderate-income youth,” Sebastian-Hauer said. “It’s to give them some real experience in a work environment.”

Funding for the YEP is provided by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which made $42,000 available as a grant to the Downtown Dover Partnership, which passed it to the DHA. The housing authority put up another $10,000.

The combined pot of $52,000 will pay the salaries for 20 trainees for 16 weeks each. The students will earn the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

Maxine Lewis, of Maxine’s New York Fashions was eager to sign up for the program.
“Back in the day, I had one of those types of jobs,” she said. “Someone helped me and I want to give back.”

Although she doesn’t yet know who will be working with her in the store at 125A W. Loockerman St., Lewis said that person will do many of the jobs done by the current staff. That includes working at the front counter, helping clients find the fashions they’re looking for and coming up with themes for dressing the front store window.

“I’ll have them do what we do, serve the customers,” she said.

Other local businesses or organizations signed up for the YEP include the state Division of Accounting, the Body, Mind and Soul Salon, the Delaware Early Childhood Center and the Wedding Boutique.

Sebastian-Hauer and DHA Resident Services Coordinator Justina Brewington are setting up instruction sessions for the trainees to teach them the necessary soft skills for getting acclimated to the business world.

A lot of the trainees will be working in customer service areas, Brewington said, meaning they must learn such things as how to answer a phone properly and how to direct callers to the right department. Emphasis also will be placed on dressing properly, learning and respecting employer’s rules and being on time, Brewington said.

The weeklong training course will be conducted with the help of the Aid In Dover organization, whose mission includes helping teens learn good living skills.

“We want to instill these things in the kids,” Sebastian-Hauer said. “We want to make them very aware of the importance of these skills.”

DHA has sponsored similar programs since 1996, but it’s the first time the focus has been on youth, she said.

“We decided to change our focus for this program,” Sebastian-Hauer said. “We always have children approaching us to try and find work. This is in response to those inquiries.”

Two local teens who took part in a DHA summer employment effort working in administrative jobs at the DHA office have signed up for the new program.

“It was my first job working in an office,” said Jernise Ayres, 17, a student at Dover High School. “It’s given us a head start on a real job.

“Working at DHA was pretty hard,” she said. “When the residents come in, they expected a lot of you. I was able to work around certain situations, learn to work with people and boost my communications skills.”

Mia Roberts, also a 17-year-old student at Dover High, had a similar experience.
“I learned how to answer phones and how to talk with the public,” she said. “Now I’m hoping to learn more.

“I learned how to work in a business setting, and I think that will help me in the long run,” Mia said. “And it was fun. It was a nice experience.”

Although the YEP only can employ 20 trainees, 32 have signed up for the program, Sebastian Hauer said. But she thinks some of those alternates, who also will receive the training on office etiquette and other soft skills, will get a chance at a job.

“Our experience in programs like this is that some people will drop out,” she said, due to problems such as conflicts with school programs or a lack of reliable transportation. Others simply may not meet their employers’ expectations.

“We’ll expect the normal things an employer will expect,” Sebastian-Hauer said. “You can’t be late all the time or show up looking like you’ve just gotten out of bed.

“But also its not like if you make one mistake, you’re out,” she said. “We want to work with people.”

In the next few weeks, Brewington and Sebastian-Hauer will set up a meet and greet event where the trainees will get to meet their prospective employers. There, they’ll help match up the trainee’s interests with what the employers have to offer.

After that, the trainees will get to work.

Lewis is looking forward to taking on and guiding her new trainee at Maxine’s New York Fashions.
“I think this is a great program for training kids, and I’m all for helping them,” she said. “I want to help make a difference.”

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