Summer youth programs helps Portales students stay on track

By Tony Parra

The summer is not necessarily a break for students. Several programs in Portales offer jobs that remind students about the importance of education.

The federal Clean and Beautify Program allows students a chance to earn a paycheck with up to 25 hours per week.
Veda Urioste, Clean and Beautify Program coordinator, said she has 14 people between the ages of 14 to 24 cleaning up the Portales community.

“I know not to throw trash out the window,” said Ricky Ruiz, a 15-year-old worker. “I tell other people not to do it, now.”
Youth Opportunities career center, located in the new Business Welcome Center on the downtown square, is another option for young job seekers.

Urioste said applicants for the Youth Opportunities career center must be 16 to 21.

“My main focus is to have … kids learn a work ethic,” Urioste said. “They know what it’s like to make a buck and develop a good sense of responsibility. Also they can have it on their resume.”

Urioste said applicants for the summer job must be students. Urioste said teen workers must meet their supervisors at 7 a.m. to start their shifts. She said they paint over graffiti and help maintain local parks.

“I like working here (Clean and Beautify program),” said Diego Espinoza “I came here from UNM (University of New Mexico) and I’m going to Eastern (New Mexico University). I brought the Lambda Beta Phi fraternity to Eastern. One of our (fraternity member’s) missions is to work with the community and help teens out. I’ve been able to serve as a role model.”

Youth Opportunities is for job seekers from lower-income families, according to its director Diana Herrington.

Rudy Martinez, 16, worked last year and said he is used to getting up at 7 a.m. and working in the sun. Martinez is an example of the partnership between Youth Opportunities, GEAR UP program (another youth organization through ENMU) and Clean and Beautify program.

“Youth Opportunities helps young people find jobs,” Martinez said. “They can place us in a job. … You learn responsibilities working in a job like this one.”

Herrington said Youth Opportunities helps young workers with everything from grooming to interviewing for a job to filling out job applications. “We test them and find out what job is best for them. We place them in jobs based on what field they would like to go into,” she said.

The mission of the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) is to empower Roosevelt County students to finish high school with a course of study that encourages high school graduates to enroll and successfully complete a post-secondary education.

The one common theme between all three youth organizations is a focus on education.

“We work with teens who are in and out of school,” Herrington said. “If they don’t have their GED (General Education Development test), we encourage them to get it. We want them to finish school. The most important thing is that they continue their education.”