Sharon Holbrooks is with the Monsanto Family YMCA branch in north St. Louis City and can remember when a young woman showed up for her first day at work this summer.
“She was just all over the place, you know, just kind of wild and crazy,” Holbrooks says. “You know, this is just not going to work.”
That same young woman is now interviewing for a fulltime job at that same YMCA branch.
“She was just wonderful,” Holbrooks says. “She’s actually doing some volunteer work for us, as well.”
Public officials and community leaders gathered at Gene Slay's Boys Club in south St. Louis City on Saturday and pointed to stories like the one told by Holbrook as proof positive that the first summer of the StL Youth Jobs Program, which wrapped up this weekend, was a success.
“We didn’t really have to promote it,” says Michael Fitzgerald, senior project direct for the Incarnate Word Foundation, which partnered with city to get the program off the ground.
“We had 200 kids in two weeks who were interested, and we had to turn kids away,” Fitzgerald says.
In its first year, the program focused on young people ages 16 to 22-years-old living in two neighborhood clusters, one in north and one in south St. Louis City.
With $400,000 in corporate and private donations, Fitzgerald says they paid mostly graduate students to work as case managers to check up on youth participating in the program and cover the wages of participants, essentially creating a system of paid internships at more than 60 work sites. Before their first day of work, participating youth received two days of training that covered topics like how to handle yourself in the workplace and personal finance.
Fitzgerald credits clear oversight and an eager first group of participants with the program’s early success.
“The case managers were the heart and soul of this project,” Fitzgerald says. “We had the opportunity to meet with people in Boston and Memphis about their summer jobs program. We had less than an eight percent dropout rate, some of these other cities warned us that we may have in excess of a 35 percent drop rate, which we didn’t have.”
Fitzgerald says the goal is to expand next year, hopefully raising enough money to create slots for 1,000 participants.
Robbyn Wahby, deputy chief of staff to Mayor Francis Slay, says the jobs program dovetails with efforts to curb youth violence.
Based on early results, Wahby envisions the program’s eventual expansion into St. Louis County and the metro east. She says it’s also a tool that can be used to help the region hang on to students traveling off to college this fall.
“We want them to be part of summer youth employment programs, too,” Wahby says. “IT fields, STEM fields, medical fields, advanced manufacturing, we want young people who out studying engineering, medicine and the life sciences, we want them back here, back in St. Louis.”
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