TriMet’s First Step program provides at-risk youth with a win-win situation

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Local teens learn responsibility and hard work pays off

Trevon enjoys the pay check – and the exercise. Kelsie calls it character-building. DaJonique says she’s learning how to treat others with respect. Jolicia likes the opportunity to give back to her community. Eduardo says it’s helping him get physically fit.

Each summer, TriMet’s First Step program gives a group of local kids a step in the right direction. Trevon, Kelsie, DaJonique, Jolicia and Eduardo are among the 20 kids taking part in the 14th annual program this summer, which they describe as a win-win. It’s an intensive ten-week program that provides at-risk youth with a summer job. They receive a transit pass and are paid minimum wage, working up to 40 hours per week. The benefits don’t end there. The boot-camp style program teaches them responsibility and the value of working hard.

“First Step is a valuable program that helps these teens learn about integrity and provides them with skills they can build on to succeed in life,” says TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane. “It benefits them, our community and TriMet.”

Each weekday morning, the kids board a TriMet bus and head out to clean bus stops and sidewalks along transit corridors. They energetically hustle along, picking up litter in parks and removing trash from neighborhoods. The teens also get life-lessons from community members who share their stories and talk with the kids about making the right choices, treating others respectfully and avoiding the pitfalls many youth face today.

“It’s so much more than just a job,” says TriMet Director of Diversity & Transit Equity, Johnell Bell. “Through the First Step program, they develop pride in themselves and their abilities. They learn hard work does pay off.”

Background

TriMet’s First Step program was started in 1998. It is a partnership with Youth Employment Institute (YEI) and prepares teenagers for the future by developing job and life skills through hard work and positive experiences. TriMet bus operator A.K. Rucker supervises the First Step program each summer. Rucker has been a bus operator for more than 30 years. He not only mentors the kids during the summer; the rest of the year he chooses to drive bus routes where he can continue to connect with at-risk youth.