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Students employed by Helping Hands
A nonprofit organization that has had to cut back in these economic times received help improving client services, thanks to the federal stimulus.
Greater Foothills Helping Hands, which provides volunteers to perform domestic chores for the elderly and disabled, received a hand up this summer when Arizona Western College in conjunction with Yuma Private Industry Council provided employment for 80 Yuma high school students, through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).
Judy Arnold, Helping Hands executive director, said the students did a phenomenal job with yard work and it was a total blessing to have them.
"A lot of our care receivers can't afford this," Arnold said. "The work wouldn't have gotten done if it wasn't for the students."
For the previous two weeks, two teams of 40 students each split up into crews of 10 and were dispatched to Foothills residents too frail to accomplish yard work on their own.
Some of the tasks must be done to comply with city ordinances and students save residents not only work but possible fines, Rudy Rodriguez, AWC's ARRA coordinator, said.
Students are paid $7.25 per hour but because ARRA does not deduct taxes, it is the equivalent of $9 an hour. And because tough times have required Helping Hands to cut its own staff hours from 40 to 24 hours per week, two ARRA program students are now working in the office.
But the students still had to be trained as Helping Hands uses its own software system to keep track of care receivers, volunteers and funding sources, many of who come from the Foothills business community and churches, Arnold said.
"The kids learn to appreciate labor and what it means to help other people. A lot of us forget even changing a light bulb for seniors can be challenging, so yard work is huge."
Mary Hubbard, a Foothills resident, praised the students for the quality of their work. Hubbard said she asked students to rake leaves, pull decaying flowers and rid her yard of goat heads, "a terrible weed that can wreck your bicycle tire or go through your shoe," she said.
And students were very gracious about following her instructions. They were careful not to damage automated sprinkler heads or puncture electrical insulation feeding into the house, she added.
"The cleanup they did, oh my goodness, it was spotless. They filled up four huge garbage bags of leaves. I think it would have taken two of them to carry each bag to the curb, never mind a little old lady like me."
But not every student had to strain through the desert Southwest heat wave to complete assignments. Mayra Riveles, 17, a Gila Ridge High School senior, is one of two who got training and work in the Helping Hands office.
"I learned how to answer the phones properly and how to confirm an appointment. I get to do a lot of everything but scheduling the yard work was the most satisfying."
Evarist Santiago, 17, a Vista High School senior, said he enjoys arranging help for the elderly to move furniture, schedule rides for doctor appointments or grocery shopping but also doing data entry of care receivers' birthdays so Helping Hands can remember them on that special day.
"I'd recommend ARRA to other students because I learned a lot here. I haven't got a job for the fall but an office job would be a good one to have."
Arnold noted students were considerate and willing to help.
"I think the program was such a positive plus for everyone involved. We're certainly thankful we're able to have them participate."