Teen’s summer job effort really pays off

Career move aided by Princeton Human Services Department.

By: Jeff Milgram
   Last summer, Princeton High School freshman Shana Bartels spent the summer answering phones, greeting people and doing odd jobs at the Bonner Foundation on Mercer Street.
   She got the job through the Princeton Human Services Department’s summer jobs program and she showed so much initiative that she was asked to work after school.
   But she’s no longer a receptionist earning $5.25 an hour. The foundation increased Shana’s pay to $6 an hour and gave her a job on its program support staff, working with the Bonner Scholars program, which gives financial aide to 1,500 college students on 22 campuses across the country.
   "My job is to keep track of everybody’s information," Shana said.
   "She took a lot of initiative," said Tara Hills, a program officer at the Bonner Foundation and Shana’s supervisor. "She does a great job."
   Shana learned a lot last summer. "It taught me a lot about responsibility and about the office environment," said Shana, 15, who is now a sophomore.
   This is the third year the Human Services Department has offered this program, which matches teen-agers with local nonprofit organizations.
   "The idea is to give back to the community," said the department’s associate director, Alta Rex, who supervises the summer jobs program.
   The program is targeted to low-income students aged 14 to 16 years old. For the past two years, students worked only three hours in the morning, but this year the program will run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Students work Monday through Thursday and attend workshops or go on field trips on Fridays, Ms. Rex said.
   She thinks the longer hours will make the program "a positive all-day experience."
   The program is funded by the department, which pays the students.
   Ms. Rex is not sure why, but the program has never filled all of the open jobs slots. There are 20 openings for this summer and only 14 have been filled, she said.
   "We target specific areas … and sometimes they just find employment elsewhere, and sometimes they get paid more. … Sometimes the kids are not thinking about jobs in the summer," Ms. Rex said.
   About four students who took part in the program last summer are returning, Ms. Rex said.
   The initial year of the program got off to a rocky start. Two students were charged with taking money from their job site.
   "That was not a positive experience," Ms. Rex said. "We have been more diligent in making the kids understand what is acceptable and what is not."
   But Shana, who plans to become a lawyer, thinks the program is great.
   "It definitely beats working at McDonald’s or something," she said.