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Riceboro teens learn, earn for summer
The city of Riceboro recently welcomed its first group of students into the Summer Youth Training Program. - photo by Photo provided.
Riceboro resident Marcus LeCounte could have spent his summer days lounging in front of the television or computer, wishing for more excitement. Instead he’s been helping beautify one of Liberty County’s historic treasures through the Summer Youth Training Program, sponsored by the city of Riceboro.
LeCounte, who at age 17 hadn’t thought much about what kind of career he would pursue, said as a result of his summer job at LeConte-Woodmanston Plantation, he’s taken a liking to landscaping.
“I could do it for a lifetime,” he said.
This spring, at the request of local youth advocate and city councilmember Chris Stacy, the city of Riceboro set aside money in its budget to fund a program that places local students ages 13-17 with employers throughout the county, teaching them life skills while also giving them a taste of the working world.
“We understood that youth in Riceboro didn’t have any idea what they wanted to do,” Stacy said. “The program received about $11,000; I can’t thank the mayor and council enough.”
Teens in the area also frequently complained of  having little to do during the summer, and factoring that into the equation led Stacy to seek assistance with developing a work-based program for them. 
He collaborated with Spencer Clark, a former Fleming resident who had developed a career readiness program, and with fellow youth advocate Joe Harris to develop the Riceboro program. Harris acts as the liaison for parents and for the employers who are participating in the program.
A former YMCA assistant director, Harris said he recognized the lack of local opportunities for teens and wanted to help organize a program that would “expose them to more than just Riceboro.”
“I want them to know that if you put in the hard work, more often than not, you’re going to be successful,” Harris said.
The program begins with an application process; of the 43 students who applied, 32 were accepted and placed with employers to work Monday through Thursday; on Fridays they attend workshops where they learn life skills ranging from social interaction to money management.
Stacy said though the program originally set the limit at 20 students, the 32 who were accepted voted to take a pay cut in order for everyone to stay.
Through the course of the program, students are expected to demonstrate readiness to acquire and  hold a job, Stacy said. This is especially important if the community wants these same youth to return to Riceboro to live and work as adults.
Participating employers include the city of Riceboro, Liberty County schools, commissioners’ office and health department, Keep Liberty Beautiful and SNF Chemtall, as well as LeConte, Dorchester Academy and Midway Family Dental.
“The employers are excited,” Harris said. “They’ve shared the sentiment of ‘whatever we can do to help, we have opportunities for them to learn.’ They were willing, every last one, to receive students.”
Riceboro 16-year-old Poneisha West has also taken a liking to her job at SNF Chemtall, where she performs office duties and assists in ensuring safety procedures are followed by employees. “I love what I’m doing,” West said. “I’m the type to help anybody who asks me.”
West applied for the program at her grandfather’s request, and said though she also wants to pursue cosmetology after school, she knows now that if that doesn’t pan out she has acquired another valuable set of skills.
I think it’s great for us to have this type of program; I love making sure the youth have something to do,” West said.
Stacy emphasized that the long-term success of the program’s lessons relies heavily on the input and influence of  the Liberty County community as a whole. “It takes more than the school system, the city or the county, or the church—it takes all those entities,” he said.
LeCounte and West are pleased enough with their experience in the program that they said they would encourage their peers to apply next year.
“It’s a great opportunity,” West said. “I would ask them, ‘would you rather be sitting at your house in front of the computer or on the phone, not learning anything, or would you rather come to a program that lets you learn something?’”

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