AYER — Punxsutawney Phil is a pure slacker compared to the students from the Shriver Job Corps Center on Devens. With the world’s eyes on him, Phil just rolled out of bed last Thursday and saw his shadow on Feb. 2, Groundhog Day, making a passive prediction of six more weeks of winter.
In contrast, and away from the limelight, Shriver students cut their teeth at Ayer Town Hall. The half dozen students were put to work on administrative tasks and received exposure to government in action.
Samantha King, 21, of Boston, has been with the Job Corps for three months studying office administration. Next her studies will focus on transportation and communications. She someday hopes to parlay the training into an airline scheduling position.
King shadowed selectmen’s secretary Janet Lewis. King kept busy filling out a different kind of schedule — the selectmen’s office calendar book. The job occupied a healthy part of her morning.
Down the hall in the Assessor’s Office, Steven Gilles, 19, of Devens, was put to work. Gilles is studying computer science, math and reading at Shriver Job Corps. He has a particular interest in database management, so the Ayer tax assessor’s office was a good fit.
“I’m trying to learn more about computers and (Microsoft database-building software) access,” said Gilles, who said he was appreciative of time spent by Tax Assessor Tom Horgan earlier in the day.”
Tax Assessor Assistant Celia Jornet showed Gilles bound copies of recorded deeds illustrating the many in-town real estate transactions that took place over the 1990s.
Groundhog Day on Feb. 2 fell just one day after D-Day for the assessor’s office — the annual deadline for taxpayers to seek abatements on Feb. 1.
“Yesterday would have been a little crazy, but today was good” for the students’ shadowing session, Jornet said.
Treasurer Stephanie Gintner showed Yanisha Velazquez, 18, of Leominster around the ropes of her office.
“I’m explaining what the treasurer’s duties are and what we do.”
Velazquez is studying office administration courses at Shriver Job Corps. “We’re working on deposits. It’s interesting. I like it.” The two had earlier visited North Middlesex Savings Bank next door to pick up updated passbooks.
Amy Tomer, of Gardner, turned 19 this week. Tomer was the one Shriver student who was assigned to Town Hall for the whole of last week as part of her work-based learning program.
In Great Hall on the second floor of Town Hall, Tomer helped the staff set up for a Thursday “thank you” lunch thrown for the Shriver students. She is studying office administration at Shriver Job Corps and then will study travel and communications curriculum.
Tomer was assigned to Town Clerk/Tax Collector John Canney. She was glad that Canney and his staff kept her hopping.
“I’ve been doing a lot of photocopying of birth certificates, death certificates and marriage certificates — separating the ones from out of town. I’ve been opening census responses and resending them to people who didn’t receive them. I’ve been filing censuses,” said Tomer. “I’ve been doing quite a bit and I love it. I hate not to be busy.”
“Honestly? Yes,” Tomer said she’ recommend the Town Hall experience to her fellow classmates at Shriver Job Corps.
“I got introduced to a lot of people. Everyone here is really sociable. They really liked to get to know who was in their office. I’ve never been in a city or town hall. Everyone welcomed me here with open arms.”
Janet Lewis said the staff at Town Hall was really excited to have the Shriver students back. The “shadow” event has been coordinated between Ayer Town Hall and the Shriver Job Corps Center for the past several years.
Lewis shared a secret — she’d purchased the student volunteers a heart-shaped box filled with chocolates as a show of appreciation for their effort. Lewis said that while the students were on hand for Groundhog Day, the Valentine’s hearts were another reminder of their visit to Ayer Town Hall, as the anniversary of the date of the town’s incorporation draws near — Feb. 14, 1871.
“We can say you are the heart of our community,” said Lewis. “They didn’t have to come. They signed up to come. God love them, they deserve a little treat.”
“Hopefully when they leave the Job Corps, they’ll get out into their community more,” said Lewis. “They’re such good kids. We’re lucky to have them. It’s so nice to see the kids come out for us.”