Shell Oil Fuels Kids' Futures

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

When Shell Oil Products Co. rebuilt a burned-out gas station here at the corner of Manchester and Western Avenues - one of 58 such stations damaged or gutted in the 1992 Los Angeles riots - officials decided to install more than just gasoline pumps.

"The company noticed that none of the McDonald's ... in the riot area were looted and burned because that company had historically invested in youths from the community," says Shell spokeswoman Melba Jackson Carter. "They decided to do the same thing."

The result was the Shell Youth Services Academy. In a small classroom adjacent to the service station, hundreds of local youths earn high school credits while learning ways to improve their chances of getting jobs.

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On a given afternoon here, about 18 local youths sit in front of computers, learning resume techniques, workplace ethics, career planning, and interview tips. The youths spend about 16 hours a week in the program: three hours in class and 13 practicing what they've learned at area businesses.

Maria Enciso, a high school senior who grew up nearby, heard about the program from her high school counselor and applied to get a jump on a career in law. She attends class from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. on Mondays, and works at an area hotel four days a week.

"The school has helped me gain experience of how to dress and act around professional people," says Maria, who will graduate from the five-month program in June. "This has been a great idea, because it keeps teens off the streets in the afternoons while helping them develop a future that might benefit the community."

Student Richard Lamby says the school makes those in his neighborhood feel different about a company that used to make money just selling gas.

"It makes us feel this company is one of us and that they care about more than just making money," he says.

Shell officials say the school began with an outlay of $2 million and costs about $500,000 per year to run. Intent on making sure its graduates get jobs, the school pays half of the salary of graduates for their first six months on the job.

Since opening its doors in March 1993, the school has graduated 611 students, 94 percent of whom now have jobs or are in college.

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