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Editorial: Investing in teen jobs; a new hand at Look Park

The days when teens had their pick of summer jobs are over — at least for now. Nationwide, the numbers tell the story: 25 to 30 percent of teens between the ages of 16 and 19 landed summer jobs last summer compared to 52 percent in 2000.

While many of these are part-time and minimum wage jobs, they can provide crucial income to teens from low-income families or students trying to finance college. These jobs also give teens an introduction to the world of work, serving as a first step toward careers.

According to labor force experts, high school students who work have lower dropout rates, are less likely to become teen parents and tend to avoid involvement with the juvenile justice system.

With that in mind, a program started last summer in Northampton has made a good start in helping teens find seasonal employment. The Northampton Youthworks program trains and employs young people while providing local employers with affordable labor. It helped 16 city teenagers find jobs last summer and hopes to do the same for up to 20 this year.

Run by the Franklin Hampshire Regional Employment Board and Career centers, the program was funded by money from the mayor’s office and between $35,000 and $40,000 from the state. The program pays young people $8 an hour to work with participating employers, who provide training and supervision. These include businesses, which are required to pay 20 percent of the wages, as well as nonprofits and municipal departments, such as the Council on Aging.

The money is well spent. With the lagging economy prompting continuing layoffs and business closings across the region, including Jeoptik Optical Systems in Easthampton on April 26, employment opportunities — especially for teens — are still few and far between.

By providing job experience and connections to area employers, Youthworks gives young people a leg up.

Look Park’s chief

With 20 years of work in recreation, including three as Look Memorial Park’s director of operations, Shawn Porter is a good choice to take over management of Northampton’s 83-year-old park.

Porter said he has no specific goals as the park’s new executive director, except continuing projects started by his predecessor, Ray Ellerbrook. That work includes paving park roads and repairing the Memorial Fountain.

The 150-acre park remains a popular venue for city residents and out-of-towners. Porter said he believes that is so because the grounds are carefully maintained and its attractions, fields and facilities aim to serve families primarily. “They are here to enjoy a really nice day,” Porter said. “It’s a really safe place.”

As it has in the past, the park will continue to evolve to meet future needs, Porter said. With that in mind, park administrators will develop a new master plan in the next year or so. The last plan was completed in 2004. He said any proposed changes will keep in mind the vision of Fanny Burr Look, who in donating the land for the park described it as “a source of pleasure to both old and young who may find in it rest and recreation.”

“Our No. 1 goal is to keep it a family-friendly place,” Porter said. That mission will be important to keep in mind as the park tries to meet the challenges, economic and otherwise, that it will no doubt face in years to come.

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