More than 120 teens, young adults were employed

By Rose Horowitch

| Published:

Montgomery County Recreation uses COVID Corps to help with virus response

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich addresses youth and young adult members of the county’s COVID Corps, while they are on break at a county COVID-19 testing facility.

Submitted photo

This summer, Montgomery County Recreation launched an employment program to help youths and young adults provide for their families and contribute to the county’s coronavirus response.

With the COVID Corps program, the department aimed to address two needs.

On one hand, the economic crisis and high unemployment rate caused many students’ summer jobs and internships to be canceled. Additionally, the county government needed helping hands to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

“One of the things that we first noticed was that as the pandemic hit and folks were being laid off. Our young people also weren’t getting the opportunities that they normally had to earn money over the summer,” Carmen Berrios Martinez, the department’s spokesperson, said. “As we know, a lot of our young people don’t just earn money for their own spending, but they really help their families with the day-to-day obligations that they have.”

The program ran over the summer, with some participants continuing their jobs into September. Employees earned $14 per hour for their work.

They took on many duties.

Some worked at local pools, disinfecting high-touch surfaces and ensuring patrons maintained social distance. Others helped out at the county permitting offices or assisted in sorting and delivering meals to older people. Some registered people for COVID-19 tests.

Mekdelawit Wilson, a senior at Montgomery Blair High School, worked at a testing site in Wheaton.

Wilson said the job improved her communication skills and taught her to be flexible. Some days, she helped with paperwork. Other days, she entered data into a computer.

Her favorite part of the job was meeting different types of people, Wilson said. Someone who is both a lawyer and an EMT offered her insight on what the future may hold as she heads to college next year.

COVID Corps employees were ages 16 to 23. Because many applicants did not have prior work experience, the county sought students and young adults determined and willing to work, Berrios Martinez said.

The response to the call for applications was immediate and enthusiastic.

The county received more than 1,300 applicants in the first week, and had to stop accepting applications due to the high demand. It ultimately employed more than 120 people, some of whom are still working at pools or testing sites this month.

The job was distinctive, Wilson said, and far removed from her usual summer positions as a camp counselor. But, as she said, “it was either stay at home and do nothing or go out to the community and help out.”

“Here, we’ve got a group of more than 100 young people stepping up to serve the community and it’s a reminder to all of us I think that everybody’s in this together,” Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich said in a video on the program. “This isn’t a problem that’s going to be solved by any one group of people. It’s going to be solved by all of us working together.”

Though the county has not yet determined whether it will continue COVID Corps, the county will continue to employ youths and young adults from the area, Berrios Martinez said.