Florida International University

Nineteen-year-old Calvin Marshall reports to work at Miami-Dade Waste Management at 8 every morning, an hour earlier than required.

This summer, Marshall and a group of young people have learned how to do resumes, prepare cover letters, and perform all the other tasks they need to get and hold a job.

The next step is to apply those skills in the actual workforce; and thanks to the Keep Miami Beautiful Summer Youth Environmental Employment Program, known as SWEEP,  teens like Marshall will get that chance.

The program gave Marshall, who has never had a job before, the opportunity to put his free time to good use.

“The way I look at it, I’ve got something to occupy my time and help me stay off street corners and out of trouble,” said Marshall, who lives in Overtown. “I just try to come in every day, do the best I can, and then prepare for tomorrow.”

SWEEP was established three years ago to give Miami teens and young adults ages 14 to 24 work experience in local businesses and city agencies. The program is spearheaded by Juanita Shanks, project coordinator for Keep Miami Beautiful, a non-profit organization that sponsors beautification projects and activities in blighted Miami communities.

This summer, 160 participants were hired to work at sites including government agencies, non-profit organizations, retail stores and a florist shop.

They also went through a  week-long orientation and 20 hours of work-readiness training, where they did listening and role-playing exercises to teach them how to cope with day-to-day issues in the workplace.

Khalil China, 15, of Liberty City, works at the Culmer Center, a community center in Overtown. He said he learned to be respectful to co-workers, dress professionally, and how to make good decisions.

“They taught us that jobs look for good judgment and leadership skills,” China said. “They want to see if you can be responsible when they are not around.”

Once the youth finished the orientation and training, they interviewed for jobs until they were hired.

Teens ages 14 to18 work up to 20 hours a week, and are paid $7.25 per hour. The young adults 19 to 24 work up to 26 hours a week, and are paid $9 per hour. One day during the work week, the workers attend classes that focus on their personal and individual needs.

“We are giving them a chance to earn income, obtain employability skills, and still be in a protected environment,” Shanks said.

Yolanda Davis, who taught the orientation sessions, said the program is meant to help teens secure community-based jobs that teach them about their culture and the community in which they live.

One of the high points this summer, she said, was when a few of her students worked with models during the “American Black Film Festival” in Miami last month.

“The main goal of the program was to place the kids in jobs that challenged them and exposed them to new things,” said Davis, who also teaches at Rainbow Park Elementary. “I know none of our kids would have been exposed to that experience had they’d been hired at a fast-food restaurant.”

Another goal for the program was to place the young people in jobs that met individual goals and needs.

Liberty City resident Leekesia Rolle's job as a clerk at the Keeping Miami Beautiful office suits her, she said, because she is seven-months pregnant.

“The program is helpful to me because it’s hard to find a job when you are pregnant,” said Rolle, 20. “They are very friendly, nice and understanding.”

The 10-week program is funded by a $480,000 from the Southeast Overtown Park West Community Redevelopment Agency and the Omni CRA. The only requirement for participants is that they live in Miami.

Calvin Marshall said he likes working  in his own neighborhood.

“I work in the Overtown community, so I’m cleaning up my city,” said Marshall. “In a way, it’s like I’m giving back.”