Denise Wise, executive director of the Hawaii Public Housing Authority, loves her "little dude crew" of summer maintenance workers — and the best thing about them is they don’t cost the state a dime.
"My little dude crew of six guys are a tremendous help with landscaping, raking, picking up trash and cleaning offices," Wise said. "We have a big campus of several buildings, and there’s quite a bit to do. … They’re kinda cute, so energetic and have such a wonderful attitude."
They and other student workers are being paid through a new Summer Youth Employment Program made possible by federal stimulus money.
HOW TO PARTICIPATE
People age 14-23 are eligible for the federally funded summer jobs. Pay starts at $8 an hour. Applicants will be selected from low- to moderate-income families — those earning up to six times the federal poverty level, which is an annual income of $25,360 for a family of four.
To hire someone under this program or to apply for a job, call 586-8877 or visit hawaii.gov/labor/wdd/ summer-youth-employment-program.
Nearly 3,800 students from low- and moderate-income families in Hawaii have been hired this year through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.
And officials are trying to get the word out to government agencies and nonprofits (private businesses are not eligible) that there’s much more money for them to get free summer help.
"It’s unlimited — there’s no cap. We started with $3 million as a base, but if the Department of Labor (which administers the program for the state) needs more, they just have to let us know," said Toni Schwartz, spokeswoman for the state Department of Human Services.
Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona is urging government and nonprofit employers to step up and provide jobs for summer workers so the money doesn’t go unused. He said about 1,300 youth applicants are awaiting jobs.
"We want to spend it, or it goes back to the federal government as of Sept. 30," Aiona said.
Jack Rabanal, 15, is among the youth workers sprucing up the Hawaii Housing Authority’s Lanakila Street campus. The student workers, Wise said, free up the regular maintenance staff to catch up on major renovations that have been put on hold because of Furlough Fridays.
Rabanal said he plans to be a firefighter when he grows up, but finds the maintenance job beneficial.
"I’m doing things I never thought I’d be doing, and I never thought I would be so into it. I like the workout — we shovel rocks and it gets us built, it gets us muscular," he said, sparking laughter from co-workers as he flexed his arm.
Nick Taaca, 17, said he wants to be a doctor, a stevedore or a crane operator.
"This is my first job," he said. "It helps me with my job experience. I tried the city and county, but too many people had already applied."
The state Department of Labor has placed 3,374 students in summer jobs through the program, department spokesman Ryan Markham said. Another 398 youths are working in jobs administered through the city government.
Aiona said he is perplexed that more employers haven’t jumped at the chance to get free help when he knows they are short of staff and funds.
"This is the first time there is an excess amount of money, and it’s a one-time shot," he said.
Through the program "we give our kids the opportunity to have jobs, but the more important thing is to teach them basic skills and build a resume. They learn financial literacy — they get to understand what a paycheck is all about," Aiona said.