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Hire-a-Youth Program Providing Summer Lifelines for Students

As every summer for many years, more than 200 area students have jobs this summer thanks to an unusual "Hire-A-Youth" program where each V.I. senator places students in jobs and the V.I. Government pays part of their salaries.
Every year, the Legislature budgets for the program, allocating a certain amount to each senator’s office based upon a formula, said Tomas Alejandro, the V.I. Legislature’s director of business and financial management. Alejandro’s office oversees the overall program, coordinating with each senator’s staff.
But each individual senator has wide latitude in their approach and makes his or her own arrangements with area businesses, Alejandro said. The arrangements vary, with the government paying between 50 percent to 100 percent of salaries, he said.
This year, the Legislature’s Hire-A-Youth program has $272,000, of which $253,000 is for subsidizing the salaries and taxes of young summer employees, he said. Members of the minority caucus receive $15,000 this year, while members of the majority get $18,000. Because he represents the entire territory and has offices on all three islands, at-large Sen. Craig Barshinger gets $22,000, Alejandro said.
"With 34 students, we exceeded that allotment," said Carol Beckowitz, Barshinger’s chief of staff. The balance was finance from the senator’s office budget, she said. Barshinger has placed students in jobs on all three islands, with James Funeral Home, Calypso Inc., Dr. Cool Air Conditioning, V.I. Bridal Store and an array of government and non-profit agencies.
In all cases, there are far more applicants than jobs. On St. Croix alone, Barshinger’s office had over 60 applications for about 12 or so available jobs, according to Nemmy Jackson at Senator Barshinger’s St. Croix office.
“It was so difficult to choose," Jackson said. "We had hoped for more money for the program so these young people could stay engaged this summer, stay off the streets, learn valuable skills and better prepare themselves for their futures.”
Although he has a smaller budget, Sen. Wayne James has made a point of maximizing summer hiring by scrimping in other areas and beefing up his available funding from his office budget. This year, James hired a whopping 83 summer interns and is appealing to the business community—major corporations, EDC beneficiaries, law firms, foundations, and autonomous and semi-autonomous agencies —to underwrite the cost of hiring the remaining 90 summer intern applicants who filed applications on time with his office this year.
"I have approximately 90 additional applicants, who are just as qualified as the 83 that I was able to hire, and they too need to and deserve to be employed this summer," he said, estimating the cost of hiring the additional interns to be $70,000.
“These are the children who are doing exactly what we ask of them: They go to school, they study hard, and then they seek employment in the summertime,” James said. “We simply have to find a way to reward them by providing them with an opportunity to earn an honest dollar and to gain professional experience—and in some cases, help out their families in these trying times."
Financing must be in place so that the remaining applicants can be at work by the middle of July, so Businesses and organizations interested in responding to James’ appeal should contact his office at 712-2216.
Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg said he makes an effort to place the students in fields where they show an aptitude or interest, but also to expose them to new experiences.
"I especially want young people to have a chance to work in the marine industry as this is such an important sector of our economy, yet Virgin Islanders are underrepresented," Donastorg said. Jim Kellogg at Independent Boatyard is accepting his third student worker, Donastorg said.
"I really would like to encourage others in the industry to reach out more to local youth," he said.
Each of the senators has their own story. Sen. Carlton "Ital" Dowe has placed 24 students in internships in banks, hotels, law enforcement, the judicial system and the Legislature, among other public and private positions. Sen. Patrick Sprauve placed 21 and Sen. Michael Thurland 24, training in positions from auto mechanic to mortuary scientist.
Every senator who could be reached for this article agreed on the benefit of having a program to subsidize employment, but at least one: Sen. Nereida "Nellie" O’Reilly, believes the program should not be run out of numerous separate senatorial offices.
"My position has always been we need a clearing house for summer employment because it is too scattered and fragmented and too inefficient to have 15 different offices handling it," O’Reilly said recently. "It can be a nightmare trying to choose from 60 applications for 12 positions, especially because many of them, understandably, apply to every senator’s office. It is a waste of resources to go through the whole selection process 15 times."
It is possible some senators use the hiring program to give out favors and gain votes, she suggested.
But the hiring itself is a good thing, and her office does its part, she said.
"Macherie Mercado, my staff member in charge, has done a remarkable job," O’Reilly said. "She’s a student at UVI, and it’s turning into a learning experience for her, too. I give her my input, but she pretty much runs the show. I’ve kept my hands off so I can’t be accused of hiring friends or family."
In one case, O’Reilly said she was happy this year that her office was able to get one college student placed with a local attorney’s office for a second consecutive summer, providing a greater depth of experience than a single stint of work would have.
Whether or not it should be run as 15 separate hiring programs, the 200- plus jobs and internships made possible by the annual Hire-A-Youth program is a godsend to young Virgin Islanders with time on their hands this summer.

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