Leilah Austin will work as a camp counselor in Prince George’s County, while Evan Jones will help beautify parts of the jurisdiction as a member of the Cleaning Cadets.
The two are among thousands of teenagers and young adults taking part in this year’s annual Summer Youth Enrichment Program (SYEP), which officially sends participants into the job market Monday, June 24.
Leilah, 14, and Evan, 15, are also dozens of participants who are first-timers, both in the program and the workforce.
“For young kids my age, you get some opportunities to work and get work experience,” said Leilah, a ninth-grader. “I’m excited.”
As for Evan, there’s a simpler answer for why he’s ready to work: “a paycheck.”
The more than 6,000 participants ages 14 to 22 enrolled in the six-week program will work for various county agencies and businesses such as Parks and Recreation, Six Flags America and State Farm.
Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks made an ambitious goal to double participants in this year’s program from 3,000 to 6,000. The county also removed a cap that will allow those who participated two straight years to return to the program.
More participants led to an increase in employers from 126 to 150. The county received about 10,000 applications with about 80 percent who applied for the first time.
The county, which usually celebrates a kickoff event for the youth and young adults at Prince George’s Community College, moved it this year to the Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro on Monday, June 17.
Alsobrooks said she walked the walk, having worked in her teen years as a candy striper at Children’s Hospital in northwest D.C. through a summer youth employment program under the late Marion Barry during his time as D.C. mayor.
“Why give up six weeks of my summer to go to work?” Alsobrooks asked more than 1,000 participants and parents at the arena. “This is one of the most important decisions you will make and that is an investment in your future. Not matter what the assignment is, make the most of that experience.”
Those ages 14 to 17 will earn $9.80 an hour and others age 18 to 22 receive $11.50 an hour for jobs in various fields such as technology, health care and agriculture.
Former Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III revamped the county’s Youth@Work/Summer Youth Enrichment Program (SYEP) in 2012 for those ages 15 to 19. Last year, about 3,300 obtained employment at more than 100 public and private sector agencies and businesses.
Benjamin Sinclair, who worked in the county’s Office of Information Technology through the jobs program in 2016 and 2017, provided a three-step process for current participants: work hard, develop good habits and remove fear.
Sinclair, 25, currently works the federal Department of Defense as an information technology analyst and attends graduate school at Bowie State University.
Cameron Wilson, 14, will work on the Bowie State campus this summer learning cyber security.
“I’m looking to gain work experience, but I want to be a sports commentator,” he said.
His mother, Sharon Wilson, smiled and clapped enthusiastically at her son obtaining his first job.
“I was excited when he received the email and accepted into the program,” she said. “It also keeps [participants] occupied, off the street and off the games. It opens up a door for them to see something else.”