Saturday July 27, 2013

BELLOWS FALLS -- Some of the people involved with Youth Services want you to take a hike.

And now you can, thanks to a group affiliated with the organization's summer employment program that has spent the past two Fridays clearing and maintaining a trail at the end of Griswold Drive. Treyvon Dunbar, Brandon Derby, Alice Gay and Garrett Cooper -- led by site supervisor Ted Hetzel -- have gotten their hands dirty beautifying the trail by removing leaves, rocks and branches and outlining the path with large sticks.

It's all part of the summer employment program's community service projects, which participants work on each Friday. Members of the program, which boasts 10 participants, also work at Kurn Hattin Farm and have done some weeding and planting at the Bellows Falls police and fire stations.

The program is a way to provide seasonal employment to young people who may for some reason have difficulty finding work elsewhere. Participants usually work outdoors to learn practical skills and are also taught life lessons from Youth Services' guest speakers and lecturers.

Another group, under the guidance of a different site supervisor, spent the past Friday working at Hospital Court and will hold a food drive at the Shaw's supermarket in Walpole, N.H.

Trail maintenance turned out to be a popular job for Hetzel's group, which took pride in clearing out a hiking path.

"One of the points of trail maintenance is so the trail is easier to identify because when people come hiking on the trail they want to be able to see where the trail is clearly and we want it to look nice," Hetzel told the Reformer. "The other point is we want them -- the kids in the program -- to be invested in the community.

"It's important for kids of this age to get work experience -- and not just for the money but to see the value of it," he added.

Alice Gay, 17, Brandon Derby, 18, and Garrett Cooper, 18, all of Bellows Falls, move branches and sticks alongside the trail path. (Kayla Rice/Reformer)
Alice Gay, 17, Brandon Derby, 18, and Garrett Cooper, 18, all of Bellows Falls, move branches and sticks alongside the trail path. (Kayla Rice/Reformer)

Dunbar, 19, said he has had a good time working on the trail, which starts at the end of Griswold Drive and concludes at a cemetery.

"It makes me feel accomplished, because it looks nice," he said Friday. "We walked all the way back from where we stopped (clearing the trail) and it took us, like, five minutes."

Derby, 18, echoed Dunbar's sentiment.

"It feels really good because after you get it done and it's clear you just know that you definitely did some work," he said, looking around at wilderness surrounding him and his crew.

Hetzel said Rockingham/Bellows Falls municipal government and the entire community have been instrumental in the success of the community service projects, mentioning specifically Highway Supervisor Mike Hindes. He said he thinks the people of the community invest so much of their time and resources into the program because they realize how important it is.

Gay, 17, has been with Youth Services for a few months and said the work is fun. She also knows she is doing something good for the community. Garrett Cooper, 18, got started a year ago because the program worked out well for his girlfriend and he enjoys the outdoor jobs.

"I love it because it's not sitting at a desk or anything like that. You're able to go do stuff instead of going home and wasting time and wasting your life away," he said, adding that he is especially proud of the trail. "It think it looks good. It looks like a wicked nice trail."

Julie Davenson, executive director of Youth Services, said the summer employment program started in 2009 and has produced wonderful results. She said the program is funded by a state grant, which in term was financed by a federal grant. The program, she said, is designated for young people who have had a rough go of it. Davenson mentioned youth employment is at an all-time low in the United States, and Vermont struggles to keep youth in the state, which is difficult to do where there are no job opportunities.

She said it is challenging enough to find employment if you have a strong family background and a college education, never mind if you come from foster care or have a learning disability. She said the program gives its members experience and skills they would not otherwise acquire.

Bianca Barry, the youth development director, said the employment program's participants must come from low-income families or have some other sort of barrier -- such as being homeless or a runaway, not speaking fluent English or having a parent in prison.

"The good the program does is pretty limitless," she said, adding that most American youth who find employment do so simply because of "somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody."

Barry said the program's summertime employees learn basic skills -- like how to open a bank account and how to balance a budget -- as well as more profound realizations, such as "their own place in the world."

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.