Pictured: Alice High School junior Alyssa Luera enjoys her new job at the JWC Sheriff's Office, although it does get hectic manning the phones. Photo by MAURICIO JULIAN CUELLAR JR.

Youths spending the summer working

Mauricio Julian Cuellar Jr., Alice Echo-News Journal

The phone rang incessantly at the Jim Wells County Sheriff's Department Friday afternoon.

Alyssa Luera, 16, spent half the day Tuesday learning the ropes, and the last three days manning the phones.

"I was looking forward to working at the Sheriff's Department," Alyssa said, picking up another call coming.

"Hello, Jim Wells County Sheriff's Office," she said. "Yes ma'am, please hold." And then again. "Hello, Jim Wells County Sheriff's Office."

Alyssa is a part of the WorkSource Youth Program, which places young people interested in working during the summer with businesses in the area looking for good workers.

"We've had a wonderful summer with more students participating than openings. All of these area businesses have been wonderful," WorkSource Youth Program manager Cynthia Hinojosa said.

Alyssa admits that the job is tough.

"There were a lot of people who didn't want this job, because it means being on the phone," Alyssa said. "I sometimes get upset people on the phone. I get yelled at a lot, especially when the sheriff isn't available, I really get it."

Every time the phone rings, Alyssa isn't sure what to expect. But she handles every caller - abusive or not - with the same level of respect. This is her first job, and she's trying her best to be professional.

"This is a good program, I didn't think I'd have these many responsibilities, or that the phones would ring this much, or that I'd be yelled at this much," Alyssa said.

For her work at the department this summer, Alyssa gets paid $6.25 an hour, but as she is finding out like most young people during their first work experience, the government does take a good chunk.

"They deduct it on my check, so most of the time, I just don't count the .25 cents," she said.

As part of the WorkSource Youth Program, the students are reimbursed for the gas they use to travel to and from work and are taken shopping for work clothes.

This week, Luera bought a pair of shoes, three shirts and three pairs of pants. The purchases really helped out this summer, because Luera wasn't sure what to wear to the department, but she knew that she wanted to make a good impression.

She said most people can't work the phones.

"It only took me half a day to handle it, then I was able to work on my own. I felt proud. Of course, I've had help from my co-workers," she said.

That sense of pride is something Alyssa hasn't felt that often as of late. She recently moved to Alice from Corpus Christi, and the transition at first was difficult - a new town, a new school and making new friends.

But through that time, she's always had the support of her new foster parents, Amalia and Mariano Ramos.

"They didn't treat me like a foster kid, they treat me like their own kids," Alyssa said.

She recently celebrated her 16th birthday, and she said it was the best one she's ever had in her life.

"They're like the best, most awesome parents in the world," Alyssa said. "Going through WorkSource has been a good experience. It's a good program," Alyssa said. "I'm trying now that my life has changed. I'm doing better."

Worksource Youth Program participants include:

Bowden Ford

South Texas Museum

Alice Counseling Center

District Attorney's Office

Jim Wells County Sheriff's Office

Alice City Hall

Community Action

Real, Inc.

Alice Police Department

Chamber of Commerce

CVC

Alice Fire Department

City of Alice

Jim Wells County Auditor's Office