Program helps teens get jobs, make community safer

WALTERBORO, SC (WCSC) - It's been nearly two years since a teen was arrested for a drive-by shooting in Walterboro that left three people dead, including a 20-month-old baby. Since 2009, Walterboro Police say they have responded to six murders, 75 aggravated assaults with a firearm, and 56 robberies. There has been a public outcry to get something done.

Now the safety program put in place to tackle crime and give teens job training graduates its first batch of students. The teens say coming from a small town where some teens get in trouble with the law, it makes it harder for other young people to be seen as any different.

"They assume that we are all getting into the same kinds of trouble, and the same things are going on for everybody, but that's not true. Some of us are actually trying to do good, stay out of trouble," recent Colleton County High School graduate Renard Bowser said.

After completing 20 hours of job readiness training, these teens are now ready to gain real-life work experience and get paid to do it.

"I've been looking for a job, so as soon as I got this opportunity I took it," 17-year-old Octavia Singleton said.

Nearly 30 teens took part in the "Teen After school Centers Plus" program this summer. TASC+ is a pilot project by the city, SLED, the Department of Juvenile Justice, and the State Department of Commerce.

The project is aimed at:

-increasing teen employability

-decreasing high school dropout rates

-reducing repeat criminal offenders

-preventing gang activity and violence

"It's the youth themselves that have to make the community safe. If we help them become more productive citizens in the community and learn how to stay out of trouble, learn how to work, stay in school, it's going to make the community a safer place to be," DJJ Program Development Director Bill Latta said.

The students will now go on to do paid internships in fields such as mechanics, dentistry, veterans affairs, and other fields, which they hope will help them for future employment.

"We learned just how to conduct ourselves, how to climb higher, how not to overstep boundaries at work, and just how to go out and get a job," 16-year-old Chardea Barnes said.

Some of the skills the students picked up during TASC+ training includes: interview skills, communication skills, and proper dress and etiquette for the work place.

DJJ will pay a stipend of $7.25 an hour for the students at their internship sites. Planners hope it will prove successful after a full year and to be able to continue the program in the future.

TASC+ is only one part of the plan to make Walterboro a safer place.  Officials will also be rebuilding run down areas.

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