SummerWorks program leaves mark on city
Published: Thursday, September 5, 2013
Updated: Thursday, September 5, 2013 16:09
Several paint cans are shelved, countless pairs of work gloves are put away and dozens of rakes, shovels and other gardening tools are hung up in the tool room at Blessed Sacrament school in North Omaha.
The third-consecutive year of the SummerWorks Omaha program has come to a close, and it’s been a long, few months of hard work, bettering the City of Omaha as well as the youths serving it.
SummerWorks Omaha is a unique service program led by University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Kathe Oleson Lyons and created within the Student-Community Leadership and Service organization. A pool of area high school children, ages 15-18, are recruited to work for city parks and various non-profit organizations from June to August. What makes the program so special is that it is privately funded by a consortium of donors, allowing the participants to get paid for their work. The financial compensation is meant to make for a learning experience in real-world work ethic and budgeting.
Monday through Friday during the program, the 150 plus participants meet at Blessed Sacrament school, the SummerWorks headquarters, and form into teams to plan their day over breakfast. Each day the teams depart to various parks or organizations to lend a hand. From changing out sand or repainting parking lot stripes in parks to assisting guides at the Durham Museum, the SummerWorks Omaha employees are there to beautify the city.
A select group of adult leaders are personally assigned to the teams of eight and are there to manage the kids. Mostly comprised of teachers, the group of team leaders has more of a mentor-over-boss sense of management.
“The best effect it has is to give [SummerWorks employees] a bit of a sense of what adults are going to be like after they graduate, out into the community,” said Robert Goetschkes, a Brownell-Talbot teacher. “Teachers tend to love kids, but when you get out there and you’re in a university or working a job, you have to be able to deal with all sorts of adults, and this is a good first experience for them.”
Through the long days of laboring in the sun and handling multiple projects together, the experiences give each SummerWorks employee a personal bond as the work weeks go by.
“I love each and every one of them,” said Alison Buechler, UNO postgraduate student and future teacher. “I’ve seen them grow in many different areas, which is great. It’s part of the program. You want them to grow, to learn and excel at what they do.”
While the participants are learning job skills and building work ethic, personally, they are also leaving a noticeable mark on the city by performing upkeep projects that would otherwise be prolonged to finish by the city.
47, 565 hours were worked between student employees and adult leaders this summer. The number of man hours alone is daunting enough, even more when you think about how much time and money it saves the City of Omaha.
“I think the best way to put the net worth of SummerWorks to the parks department, it’s almost immeasurable,” said Arlin Hunter, City of Omaha Parks and Recreation volunteer coordinator. “We’ve been able to do projects in the parks that probably wouldn’t be slated to be accomplished for two to three years down the line. These kids have been able to go out and get into the parks and do projects that would have taken our staff probably years to accomplish.”
As the weeks went by, area high school student Tierra Conyers made note about the drastic change her teams made in local parks.
“It’s all about making [Omaha] look better.” Conyers said. “I saw a lot of them beforehand and thought, ‘Ew,’ but after we’re done with them, it’s a lot of fun. I get to see all the work we’ve done and it make me feel alot better.”
With all of the progress made in city parks and beyond, SummerWorks Omaha is looking to be a program with real staying power. Each year, the program finds more resources and more partners to sustain and grow. The program itself continues to help the SummerWorks employees grow.