Students Spend Part of Summer Vacation Working at Rider Park | News, Sports, Jobs

Austin Street, left, Avery Masters, center, and Hunter Hesse, right, move gravel while working on drainage ditches in Rider Park this week. KAREN VIBERT-KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette

It was a hot day — the kind that keeps people indoors, using air conditioners and fans.

But a group of high school students instead chose to do various jobs around Rider Park. Some repaired ditches along the road leading to the picnic area, others sanded and painted picnic tables in the park.

During their work, they acquired important professional skills – they came to work, worked as a team until tasks were completed, communicated with team members and, ultimately, took pride in a job well done.

This is the second year of the program offered by the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR) and Living Unlimited, one of their service providers.

Living Unlimited and OVR have “We worked together to create a program for teens who need job skills, job experience. To give them a foot in the door so they have those things when they apply for other jobs before or after high school” said Billie Jean Tyler of Living Unlimited.

Rider Park Manager Sara Street dumps a load of gravel as Austin Street, 17, Jeremy Hules, 17, and Avery Masters, 17, from left to right, help her this week at Rider Park. KAREN VIBERT-KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette

Tyler and Lynnette Murray, another Life Coach at Living, were at the park with the students to supervise and provide any support they needed in their jobs. There were two groups of workers in total—one at Rider Park and one at Trout Run Park. Each group works for four weeks at their facility.

Nine students from the Montoursville and South Williamsport Area School Districts are at Rider Park, and Williamsport Area School District students are working at Trout Run.

Transportation is provided so it is not a barrier to participation, and students are paid for the work they do, Tyler noted.

“They are offered this opportunity through OVR as part of the school transition programme” Tyler explained.

“There are counselors who go to schools that work for OVR. The whole idea is to get these students out and find them jobs so they can be more successful when they do it on their own. OVR has offered this program to these clients that they see at the school.” she said.

South Williamsport Area High School seniors Chima Uwawvike (left) and Dylan Baier polish a picnic table at Rider Park this week. KAREN VIBERT-KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette

In addition to park maintenance work, students are also offered other educational opportunities as part of their job.

“The kids are learning so much. The first three days they were learning about invasive plants and walking around the meadows. We focused on four specific species, and then we cut them down and put herbicides on them so they wouldn’t grow back. Of course, we didn’t get to all 800 acres, but the kids were able to learn about it.” said Murray.

Students then set about repairing the trail, raking rocks and laying drainage, and then a storm hit the area, knocking down trees and breaking branches in the park.

“That wasn’t in our plan… so we divided and conquered and made all the trails here to clear out the branches and trees.” said Murray.

They also learn basic skills, such as painting and preparing wood for painting using a sander.

“There were kids who didn’t know how to use a hand sander – now they’re learning how to do it safely. Someone painted this way yesterday instead of following the grain. Learning why things are made the way they are.” said Murray.

“Some of these kids haven’t had that experience. Some have, but not all. And they appreciate it. They got a tool kit when they started Living Unlimited, with the basics — shears, gardening tools, gloves, all that stuff. They said, ‘These are cool. I use them at home.’ They’re really excited about it.” said Murray.

An example of the enthusiasm with which the students approached their work was the day they repaired a trail that tended to collect water and become muddy.

“They had been out on that trail all day in the open sun, repairing the trail that was collecting water, putting down drainage, stone, and material. Carrying and raking all kinds of rocks. They were despondent because it was time to go. They wanted to finish, to see the end result of their hard work.” Murray said

“It was really cool on the way home to hear them say they were a little down because they wanted to see something. They were proud of the work they were doing.” she said. “They’re a fantastic group of kids. They’re hardworking and get along well. They’re respectful.”

It is hoped that participating in the program at Rider Park will help Chima Uwawuike, a senior at South Williamsport Area High School, find employment this summer.

“I have a feeling that if I tell them I work at Ryder Park, as well as tell them about my experience, they will most likely accept me” Uwawuike said.

His coworker and classmate at South Williamsport, Dylan Baier, agreed.

“You will learn many useful things” Baier said.

One of the students, Hunter Hesse, a senior at Montoursville Area High School, was in his second year of participating in the program, having worked at Trout Run Park last year.

You could hear the pride in his voice as he talked about the work he does at Rider Park.

“What I’ve been doing for the last two years is just taking care of the trees and making mulch rows…sanding the tables. Just taking care of the place.” said Hesse.

“I learned a lot of new skills, like knowing plants, animals, insects, anything that’s really important. Of course, the most important thing I learned was communicating with people… I know that everyone is different, has different attitudes and things that I have to get used to and try to find a way to make it work” said Hesse.

Hesse encouraged other students who might be considering the program to do so.

“This place is really good for you. It’s like showing you what the real world will be like” he said.

Speaking about OVR and Living Unlimited, Hesse said: “They’re amazing. I really like how they give people opportunities, especially me, giving them a second chance to do things with other people and other things.”

The park’s only full-time manager is Sara Street. She has two part-time employees and a few volunteers, so she appreciated the work the students did.

“They work on projects that would be difficult for my employees to do—things that require a lot of work.” Street said.

She talked about how she benefited from the help of students during that first year.

“It’s been really busy. I wish I could reproduce. Very enthusiastic, great employees – they really bring a good attitude” she said. “So I’m very happy to be working with this group and I hope we can do it again.”

When asked if they exceeded her expectations, Street replied: “Absolutely.”

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