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A match made in heaven: merchants welcome Lehman High School interns

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Small business owners in Throggs Neck and Westchester Square need affordable employees. Students at Lehman High School need work. Talk about a match made in heaven.

The Lehman High School Student Council plans to send interns down to Throggs Neck and up to Westchester Square. The Throggs Neck Merchants Association (TNMA) and the Association of Merchants and Business Professionals of Westchester Square (AMBPWS) are ready.

“Kids [at Lehman] have a hard time finding jobs,” junior Michael Goldstein of Castle Hill said. “But these are kids from the neighborhood, good kids.”

Small business owners in Westchester Square and Lehman students share a complicated relationship. On one hand, students funnel cash to delis and stores, during lunch breaks and after school. On the other hand, when energetic teens flood Westchester Square, antics often ensue. There were problems not so long ago, due to inadequate cooperation between small business owners and Lehman administrators, AMBPWS president John Bonizio said. The former principal of Lehman wasn’t the best partner, Bonizio added.

“There are stores that survive on the Lehman lunch crowd,” he said. “But we don’t want kids tossing lemons and limes at each other.”

In new Lehman principal Janet Saraceno, Bonizio has gained an excellent partner; Saraceno fosters civic responsibility, Bonizio said. So does Maria Lepore, student council advisor at Lehman. Her students arrange college fairs and talent shows.

Most of the internships will be unpaid but Lepore hopes her students will land paid positions later on. Some Lehman families need students to earn.

Members of the student council visited TNMA and AMBPWS meetings in September. Small business owners who agree to take on interns will win ads at Lehman events arranged by the student council, Goldstein said.

Goldstein, who enjoys drama and science, has found it hard to find a job. Thanks to the economic recession, teens compete against college grads for minimum wage jobs. Goldstein hopes to intern with TNMA president John Cerini, a tax and insurance agent, or with Councilman James Vacca.

“One of our missions [at TMMA] is to hire within the community,” Cerini said. “We want to keep the community strong. We want to see Lehman students bloom here.”

Lepore has signed up more than 20 students to become interns, Goldstein said. There are plenty of small business owners – bankers and doctors, grocers and accountants – eager to participate.

“When I was a high school student I had people who helped me,” Bonizio said. “I want to pay it forward.”

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