Announcing a summer jobs program Wednesday at the Omaha Mayor's Office, civic leader Willie Barney asserted that most successful Americans worked a summer job when they were young.
That set us to wondering: What were the first summer jobs of the successful people in the room.
So we asked a few.
Mayor Jean Stothert entered the labor pool in a swimming suit at age 15. She worked as a lifeguard at her hometown swimming pool in Wood River, Ill.
City Councilman Ben Gray also worked for a summer as a lifeguard, in his home town of Cleveland. That was actually his second summer job, though. The summer Gray was 15, he worked on a maintenance and landscaping crew in a Cleveland cemetery in a job he acquired through the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act. Too young to use a power mower, he clipped grass around headstones with hand shears. It didn't creep him out, but he noted that his graveyard shift was during the day. "I made sure I was out of there before they closed the gates for the night," he said.
City Councilman Garry Gernandt, true to his S.O.B. (South Omaha Boy) roots, started working the summer he was 11. He pumped gas at the Standard Oil station at 20th and Vinton Streets.
Willie Barney, president of the Empowerment Network, began his working career in a manner that will resonate with a lot of Nebraskans and Iowans. He de-tasseled corn in southeast Iowa. He was 14.
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Mayor Stothert hopes youth summer jobs program will create 500 workers
Needed: More employers and donors.
That was the main message from a press conference Thursday in Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert's office to launch the summer jobs program Step-Up Omaha!
The community-based initiative of the Empowerment Network and City of Omaha aims to connect Omahans ages 14 to 21 with summer employment.
People who want the jobs had better hurry. The deadline is March 11 for applications — accepted on-line at www.stepupomaha.com.
This year's goal: 500 workers, Stothert said.
And even more would be better, City Councilman Ben Gray said. There's lots of data, including from the Omaha program's seven-year history, that more jobs equal less crime, he said.
While thanking businesses and philanthropists for participating in the program, Gray urged more to become involved.
Putting 500 people to work in the program would cost about $1 million, said Willie Barney, president of the Empowerment Network.
The city is contributing $300,000 in federal grant money. Businesses and donors have pledged another $200,000, Barney said.
The program has put more than 2,400 youths to work in its seven years, he said. And some have moved on to full-time employment and educational success.
“Our goal is not just summer employment but year-round employment,” Barney said.
Jobs start at $7.25 an hour, but some pay more. They include office, landscaping, maintenance and information technology work. A two-week training period includes transportation assistance, with on-going help in planning how workers can get themselves to job sites.
In the program, youths ages 14 and 15 participate in work experience training and education through career exploration programs. Youths ages 16 to 18 work in jobs designed to provide specific work experiences, and they receive on-the-job training. People 19 to 21 can receive job placement assistance, referrals to other organizations for training or both.
People can apply on-line at www.stepupomaha.com, or at any Omaha Public Library branch or through partnering agencies. The Omaha Public Schools can help with that, too.
Youths must live in the City of Omaha, and be at least age 14 at the time of application.
For information by phone, call 402-502-3763.