Midtown Muse: Youth employment program pays dividends

07/26/2014 10:51 PM

07/26/2014 10:52 PM

This summer marks a milestone in my household: Teeghan, our 16-year-old, has a J-O-B.

It’s quite bittersweet, I admit.

When Teeghan first announced back in March she wanted to apply for a job with the City of Raleigh Summer Youth Employment Program, I initially felt a bit queasy – twice. First, my Mama Bear sensibilities worried, and I questioned whether she felt she has to or needs to work. Second, my 20/20 hindsight knows, going forward, that the world of work will be always on her mind and, therefore, always part of her life, even if only in the recesses of thought during her college years. It’s a baby-step into adulthood, yes, but … so soon?

The more I heard of the employment pursuits and successes of her friends and the children of my friends, the more my proverbial apron strings loosened. Heck, First Daughter Malia Obama has landed her first gig! She’s the same age. Plus, I remembered I drove a school bus when I was in high school. Each summer, I worked as a cashier at Chavis Park Pool, too.

So, she gathered her résumé and required IDs and joined her peers ages 15-18 in the summer job pool to work 20-35 hours per week in city offices, perform light labor or serve as recreation counselors.

This year, there were 512 applicants. Of those, 170 got jobs. Last year, 644 teens applied. More than 900 applied two years ago — not surprising in a tanked economy.

Teeghan is a junior counselor at Biltmore Hills Community Center. She interacts with campers and assists senior counselors with crafts, games and other activities.

A paycheck isn’t all she gets in return, either. While Teeghan and her peers help the City handle its business, the City provides them work experience and training.

The Raleigh Summer Youth Employment Program is about 32 years old. Funded by the City Council in its annual budget, RSYEP is one of few youth employment programs, summer or otherwise, in the country, said Cathey Ector, the city’s Youth Services Director.

Finding work is tough for teenagers nationwide. Last year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports, about 25 percent of youth ages 16-19 were employed, down significantly from 45 percent in 2000. Only about 17 percent of African-American youth had jobs.

“These kids aren’t just looking for summer jobs so they can buy the latest technology,” Ector said. “A lot of students are helping their households. Some of our kids are helping with the light bill and buying groceries.

Along the way, they get three levels of training. There’s on-the-job training specific to their work detail, followed by Life Skills Development Training that focuses on employment readiness, communication, budgeting, decision-making and conflict resolution. Also the teens learn to Bring Your A-Game to Work, a national work ethic proficiency training program that drives home seven principles: attitude, attendance, appearance, ambition, accountability, acceptance, and appreciation. After their summer work, students can become certified in the curriculum – a definite resume builder.

The Wake County Bar Association, the Raleigh Police Department and others also pitch in by connecting with youth through the Lunch-With-A-Professional program, serving as mentors for academic and career paths during the summer and beyond.

When Dominique Barile sat down with Wake County prosecutor and assistant District Attorney Ashleigh Parker Dunston two weeks ago, they discovered Dunston graduated from Wake Forest University, where Barile will enter as a freshman next month.

“She invited me to shadow her for a day,” said Barile, who works in the police department records division. “That was very fulfilling, very enriching. It helped me decide that is definitely what I want to do, especially to become a prosecutor.”

The youth are building long-lasting ties through the program.

Kaylah Nance Webb started work at Green Road Community Center in 1998. She was 14. Now 30, she is the assistant director at Biltmore Hills, where camp registrations hit waiting-list status in early April.

“I thought I just had a steady summer job,” said Nance Webb, who rose from junior and senior counselor posts to camp counselor, camp director and district manager for all camps. “I thought I was going to major in something to do with math and science and computers.”

The N.C. State alumna changed her focus to recreation and started working year-round as a computer specialist and district manager for other programs. She started applying for full-time jobs once she graduated.

“... I’ve been at Biltmore Hills for eight years,” said Nance Webb, who also helps train summer youth employees. She’s a prime example of the program’s potential.

“We put a lot of emphasis on training our youth because we want to make sure when they’re working, they’re bringing real value to the worksite,” Ector said. “We’re training Raleigh’s workforce.”

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