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Program puts business data at teens' fingertips

Local teens worked this summer to gather information and build a database on jobs, services and internships in Pinellas County.

Picture this, teenagers: Make a phone call or access the Internet for information about scholarships, Friday night activities and the cheapest meals.

YouthMapping hopes to make it all possible.

About 50 Pinellas teenagers, 14 to 18 years old, working this summer through the county or St. Petersburg, put questions to about 4,000 businesses. The young people filled up surveys with information about hours, available jobs, services and internships.

While the job ended Friday for many of the teenagers, the work goes on.

Beth Tobias, YouthMapping coordinator for Pinellas County, said after the information is put in databases, hired teens will input the data into a Web site, kiosk or teen phone line and encourage businesses to offer more youth-geared programs. This encouragement, she said, will come when businesses want to be a part of the the finished product.

Tobias said the goal is to receive continuous funding that would keep this program open and the information constantly updated. She said their program will be completed by September 2000.

"Maybe we are not giving that generation a true chance to really be a part of the community," Tobias said. "They need these opportunities; there needs to be more meshing of age groups."

Cory Adler-Leidersdorff, Family Resources development director and head of the St. Petersburg YouthMapping program, said that besides gathering information, teens learned job skills.

"Here we have 25 teens working and they want to be here," Adler-Leidersdorff said. "They say July was one of the hottest months of the century, and they were out there every day. Sometimes they were kicked out because businesses said they were too busy, and sometimes they say come in, they are glad to answer."

Michael Dotson, 15, a youth mapper for the county program, said they visited restaurants, auto repair shops and recreation centers. Dotson said some businesses refused to answer his questions or asked him to leave, but his experience changed as the months went on.

"We give the information to the community and hope the community uses the information to help," he said. "I hope to change (businesses') opinions and let them know that teens can be trusted."

Dotson's typical day began at 8 a.m., finding out what businesses to visit, surveying those businesses, breaking for lunch at about noon and going back out until about 3 p.m. Each teen was paid $5.25 an hour.

The Academy for Educational Development started the first YouthMapping program in 1991 in New York City. These first teens discovered that certain New York communities with a large number of young people did not offer enough youth programs.

Raul Ratcliffe, program officer for Academy of Educational Development/Center for Youth Development and Policy Research, said this is one of the first programs to collect positive information that encourages teens to get involved in the community by making local opportunities known.

Wanda Tyson, an office worker from Clearwater Pain Management, said the teens came into her office and she answered a variety of basic questions about the company.

"They were very nice, clean-cut," she said. "I thought they handled themselves very well . . . I have three children and two of them are teenagers. That has a lot to do with it. I connected with them."

The Pinellas County program is funded for two years through the Juvenile Welfare Board. The St. Petersburg program may not continue past Sept. 30, when its funding ends.

Adler-Leidersdorff said they are hoping to receive additional grants, but she said regardless of what happens, she is proud of the information they have gathered and hopes it will be used by other organizations discussing teen opportunities.

Cynthia Fox, manager of community planning for the Juvenile Welfare Board, said the program has taught teens job and communications skills and has demonstrated that today's youth are serious about working.

"This is a real opportunity for them to develop all types of skills," Fox said. "They can talk to people about what they learned. We have created leaders. . . . (Businesses) can understand that there are youth who want opportunities to learn, work and contribute."

Jacquelyn Palfy, 15, said the program helped her become eligible for a school scholarship. Palfy said she hopes the community utilizes the information they have gathered.

"I think it is real good," she said. "It opened up a lot of opportunities. Some are in it for the paycheck, but for me it helped me qualify for a scholarship. When we have finally gathered all the information, we can put it on a Web site and help a lot of kids."