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Local Youth Use Summer Jobs to Help Improve Neighborhoods

Local youths get job skills and leadership development through summer program to help spruce neighborhoods in Peabody, Salem and Beverly.

Local youths in three cities are helping beautify some neighborhoods in need of attention, and they're getting paid for it.

The inaugural summer youth jobs program, Students Take Action for Neighborhood Development, run by the North Shore Community Development Coalition hired a group of Salem youths, ages 14-20, last year to work on projects in two neighborhoods in Salem and Beverly. Due to the success of the program, it has now expanded to include Peabody and hire some Beverly and Peabody kids for this summer.

The initiative, which is an extension of a year-round program in Salem, seeks to employ at-risk and low-income youth to help revitalize neighborhoods in each community that are in need of attention, be that cleaning up trash or graffiti, planting a local garden or identifying sidewalks that are in rough shape.

The other goal is to develop leadership and vocational skills -- the youths themselves are tasked with assessing needed projects with city officials and other stakeholders, carrying out much of the work and presenting those plans as well as outlining future steps.

They also take specific workshops for public speaking, resume building and leadership development during the course of the six-week program.

On Monday, Mayor Ted Bettencourt, Congressman John Tierney and local officials, including Building Commissioner Kevin Goggin, Community Development Director Karen Sawyer, Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department Director Jen Davis and Peabody Learning Academy Director Seith Bedard took a tour of Downtown Peabody with the group to see which projects they had in mind.

Similar walkthroughs were done in Salem and Beverly last month.

Bettencourt said they walked around a block on Monday, essentially, covering Foster, Main, Oak, Mason, Winter, Spring and Summer streets and Littles Lane.

"It was kind of a mutual meeting of the minds," Bettencourt said -- the youths had some cleanup and beautification projects they would undertake along with some sidewalk repairs the city would perform. At each stop, one of the teens would step forward and explain the project he or she planned to do.

Bettencourt said most of the teens' projects would involve cleaning up trash and graffiti, repairing some fences, weeding and planting a couple gardens. Thirteen specific projects encompass Park, Main and Washington streets and Littles Lane.

"I was very excited to partner up with this group," he said, adding it filled him with a great sense of pride to see local youths taking such an active interest in their hometown -- some of that Peabody Pride he often talks about. "It's great to see the kids taking pride in the community."

As part of an effort to encourage community wide volunteerism, Bettencourt sponsored the , which focused on the downtown.

Bettencourt noted that some of the Peabody youths in this program are also students at the Peabody Learning Academy, an alternative high school program at the .

The youths will be working on their projects over the next two weeks while the city's sidewalk repairs will likely happen over the next few months.

The team will then give a final presentation Aug. 21 on all it's accomplished and suggest some future steps to all stakeholders in the community. The meeting will be at the at noon.

Sandi Drover, who attended Monday's tour on behalf of Police Chief Robert Champagne, said she was also impressed by the teens, some of whom she knew from her long years of working in the school district.

She said one student told her he wants to pursue architectural design or a related field once he graduates.

She noted that the adults supervising the program for the North Shore CDC were also impressed with how the youths' ideas and the program were received in Peabody.

The program is funded through the North Shore Workforce Investment Board, North Shore Career Center, Forest Foundation and Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC).

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