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Making money in the sun

As far as summer jobs go, Will Paul, Alex Zorman and Kong Moua don't have it too bad.

It was a hot, humid afternoon but the teenagers measured and sawed, sat and talked, relishing the chance to be outdoors rather than stuck inside listening to the hum of an air conditioner.

The three were at the Cottage Grove Archery Range as part of the Tree Trust Youth Conservation Corps, a program that aimed at giving Twin Cities teens an opportunity to gain on-the-job experience during the summer months while earning some high school credits, and a little cash -- $6.15 an hour with a chance at raises.

Megan House, a college student on summer break and site supervisor for the nonprofit organization, said it's the appeal of a summer spent outdoors earning money instead of flipping burgers, stocking shelves or ringing up shoppers that draws so many kids -- 360 between the ages of 14 to 21, and a waiting list of more than 400.

"For a lot of them, this is their time away from school," she said. "So (the kids like to) get outside and do something different. It's something different every day; they're not doing the same repetitive task over and over that you might find in a department store or fast food restaurant."

Helping reforest cities in the wake of Dutch Elm disease, Tree Trust was founded in 1976 and more than 28,000 youths have participated in the employment training programs with the goal of readying junior high and high school students for the world of bosses, co-workers and eight hour work days. And lately, those eight-hour days -- each youth works three of them per week -- have been tougher and tougher to get through.

"The last two days have been hot and humid and these kids work through it," House said. "It might not be the best day, but these kids are like, 'Hey, let's get this done.'"

Paul and Moua of Cottage Grove, and Zorman, of Woodbury, are part of crew comprised of south Washington County teens that recently completed construction of a wooden staircase at Woodridge Park and are in the process of building some new targets at the Archery Range before the nine-week summer program ends Aug. 17.

Paul, a senior at Park, heard about the job through his counselors, as do most of Tree Trust's youth employees, House said. The satisfaction in working for the youth conservation corps -- his third summer doing so -- comes from seeing a complicated project through to completion.

That, and the money -- he just got a raise, Paul said.

"It's actually pretty fun seeing the environment change," he said. "It's cool; you can actually see what you've done."

Zorman, a senior at Woodbury High School, agreed.

"At the beginning we never thought we'd get done," the 18-year-old said. "A few weeks later, we're finished."