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New program helps at-risk teens get a job, learn life skills

by: Kerry Kavanaugh Updated:

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BOSTON - A new program is engaging inner-city teenagers, helping them earn a paycheck and a diploma.

After a full day at school, Rosa Espiritusanto and Sania Elliot head to work at the Head Start in Jamaica Plain. It’s more than a paycheck; it allows them to develop skills they didn’t know they had.

"Responsibility and patience," said Elliot.

"I learned I have a lot a lot of patience. I am able to communicate, not just people my age, but little kids as well,” said Espiritusanto.

The high school students are part of a new pilot program called WorkSMART. Social services agency ABCD launched the program in 2014.

"I said what we have to do is have something where the youngsters actually get paid and there's not jobs in the community,” said ABCD Executive Director John Drew.

Drew said giving teens jobs not only keeps them off the streets, it gives them concrete evidence of what they can achieve.

"They're excited. I run into the kids and they're excited,” said Drew.

The eight week program starts with two weeks of preparation. The students learn about budgets, resumes, and professionalism. Then they work for 15 hours a week, earning $10 an hour.

The  program also offers them tutoring and case management. ABCD says the first 150 students stayed in school or graduated.

"It keeps you out of trouble,” said Elliot.

"After school, you can do three things, you can go to work, you can go home or you can hang out around the streets,” said Espiritusanto.

Espiritusanto says she's gaining valuable experience and confidence to tackle whatever her future holds.

ABCD would like to expand the program to include 500 students, but it needs the help of community investors to cover the cost to more than double the amount of students it's able to help.