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Program provides basic work skills

Sherrita Marshall, 18, a senior at Southside High School, was enjoying her first day of work in the Centre for Commerce under the supervision of Claire Twardy, the chamber’s executive director.

It was a holiday, so it was possible for Marshall to work from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. For her work she is receiving minimum wage – $5.25 per hour – and comes free to her employer. She also attends evening classes two days a week.

Twardy and Marshall are taking advantage of a new program – Alabama About Face – sponsored by the National Guard, with federal funding, that enables students such as Marshall to work 20 hours and attend classes between Nov. 25 and Dec. 19 to prepare them for the real world of work.

Like any employee, Marshall keeps a time sheet and is evaluated at the end of the project. She also has the opportunity of evaluating her employer.

Marshall is hoping to attend the University of Alabama at Birmingham and work toward a degree in nursing.

Commenting on the first day of work near its end, Marshall, who was collating the fall chamber newsletter and helping prepare a January mailing, said: “I love the job. The job’s easy and is pretty good work. I enjoy doing it.” She plans to use the money she earns to pay for supplies for her senior year.

Twardy said that in the hours remaining that Marshall will help with the organization of the Dec. 13 Christmas parade, among other duties.

Twardy is calling on area businesses to consider engaging a young person such as Marshall during the busy Christmas season – at no charge to the employer. As of last week there were 15 students still available for placement, although they are being placed as quickly as employers can be found, she said.

In a separate interview, Samuel L. Coleman, who teaches at Tipton Middle School and who serves as site work experience supervisor for Marshall and 29 others, explained that the program is in its first year of operation in Selma-Dallas County. Currently there is one other program in the state and three more are projected for the next five years, he said. Alabama was one of the first states to take advantage of the new program, he said, the only other states that he knows of being Rhode Island and Mississippi.

The work site director of the program is J.L. Chestnut Jr. and the program manager of the state is Pete Thomas, who provides overall supervision for this site.

The purpose of Alabama About Face, according to Coleman, is to help high school students learn life skills, such as reading, computer, financial and health.

Students receive a stipend for attending classes and completing their assignments satisfactorily, in addition to wages paid for the 20 hours of week done at a local business. The classes are held at the National Guard Armory on Highway 80 West Monday and Wednesday evenings during the term of the program. The space and equipment such as computers are provided by the National Guard.

In Selma-Dallas County, all four high schools are participating this fall – Selma, Southside, Dallas County, Keith. The program runs in four terms between November and August. Thirty area students can participate in each cycle, upon successful completion of the application process, and are placed on a first-come, first-served basis. There is a waiting list, Coleman said.

Career Link on Water Avenue is the agency that conducts the application/screening process, according to Coleman.

The first graduation ceremonies for the Selma-Dallas County program will be held Dec. 19 at the National Guard Armory, the last day of the first term, Coleman said. Gov. Bob Riley, who has a strong interest in the program, has been invited to attend. Certificates will be given to students successfully completing all program requirements.

Businesses interested in securing the services of a student enrolled in Alabama About Face – Selma/Dallas County should contact Samuel L. Coleman at (334) 419-1703 as soon as possible.