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Out of Work

City’s Summer Jobs Program To Turn Away 2,000 Kids Due to Lack Of Funding

Jefferson Jackson Steele
WORKIN' IT: Local officials talk up the city's YouthWorks summer-job program at a press conference (at left), but the program doesn't have enough funding to provide jobs for all the kids who applied to participate this summer.

By Anna Ditkoff | Posted 6/22/2005

On the morning of June 20, the administrative building at Druid Hill Park looked like it was decked out for a summer block party. Balloons were tied to poles and kids in matching long white T-shirts sat on picnic tables and mingled with city and state officials. It was the kickoff event for YouthWorks, a 9-year-old program that hooks Baltimore City kids up with jobs for the summer. Despite the festivity on this cool summer day, there was one dark cloud hanging over the event.

Of the approximately 7,000 kids that registered for the program this year, there will only be enough money in the budget to place 5,000 of them in jobs. The additional 2,000 kids will have to find another way to spend their hot summer days.

YouthWorks, which is run by the Baltimore City Office of Employment Development, matches young people ages 14 through 21 with government agencies, private employers, and nonprofit organizations across the city. The idea is to keep kids off the street and give them practical work experience.

Younger kids usually go to nonprofit organizations and city agencies; older kids are placed with private companies in the hope that they may be able to parlay their summer experience into future careers. According to Alison Cole, director of career develùpment services at the Office of Employment Development and the chief administrator of YouthWorks, one former student worked with an architectural firm through YouthWorks for three summers in a row. Now he’s going to college to study architecture.

“They’re building a future work force,” Cole says. “This is an opportunity for you to take young people and begin to mold them, begin to let them learn about all aspects of your industry and then go on to school and perhaps come back to work for you.”

Despite the opportunity to mold future employees that Cole describes, only a very small segment of the private sector works with YouthWorks. Of about 400 employers participating in the program this year, only 75 are private businesses. The rest of the jobs come from nonprofit organizations and city agencies, neither of which can afford to pay the salaries of their YouthWorks employees, so the city foots the bill. It costs YouthWorks about $1,000 per participant to put these kids to work. And that price tag is what is forcing it to turn some kids away this year.

Walker Gladden is the youth coordinator for East Baltimore’s Rose Street Center, a nonprofit organization that works with ex-felons and at-risk kids. He is worried about the impact the shortage of funding will have on those 2,000 kids shut out of the program this summer.

“I can just sit back and examine my own life especially from the perspective of an ex-felon,” Gladden says. “I was struggling for jobs as a young man, and jobs didn’t hire me because of my past. Because they did not allow me to go through that process I chose another route to get finances. I was entangling myself in crime.”

According to statistics from the nonprofit Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance, the percentage of juvenile arrests for young people with at least one prior offense rose steadily from 2000 to 2003. And in 2003, approximately 47 of every 1,000 students in the city had been arrested on a drug-related charge. Thirty-three of last year’s 278 homicide victims were juveniles, and 18 of the homicide suspects were minors—some of them are suspects in more than one homicide case.

“Employment is one of the master pieces that actually brings about change in not only the lives of the young people but reduces the violence in the community as well,” Gladden says. “Because if you get them into a positive environment and they begin to do something positive with their lives, then no longer do they want to entangle themselves with the violence.”

Gladden found out about the YouthWorks funding gap in May, after several young men he works with signed up for the program. According to a May 17 letter from Cole thanking Rose Street for contributing to YouthWorks, 6,336 kids had already registered for the program and the city expected to have funding for only 4,900 of them. “To ensure that we can meet the needs of all the youth that make the request, we need to raise an additional $1.2 million dollars,” Cole wrote. Gladden was upset by the news, not only because kids trying to get legitimate jobs would be turned away, but also because YouthWorks was continuing to register kids, even though the program’s coordinators knew they didn’t have enough money for all those already registered.

As late as May 24, Gladden says the program was still registering young people for jobs they would not be offered.

“You still have our young people believing that they’re going to be employed,” he says. “I mean, why are you still going through this process?”

Gladden says programs like YouthWorks are especially important for the kinds of kids he works with. Many of the young people who come to Rose Street are trying to extricate themselves from the drug culture, and many more have criminal records that make it difficult to get jobs through traditional routes. YouthWorks is one of only a few avenues through which they can gain work experience, he says. To make matters worse, Gladden says, many of these kids already have very little trust in a system they feel has no interest in them.

“They’re struggling to come out of . . . the mind-set of hopelessness,” he says. “Their trust toward the system, their trust toward even employment, [is gone], because they look at employment [and] employment doesn’t even want to develop a relationship with them. Neither does the system.”

Cole says that closing registration for YouthWorks early was not an option.

“When you put the literature out that you have registration until May 27, then you have to do registration until May 27,” she says. “That’s been publicized since January, but in January you don’t know how much money you’re going to have, because it’s not a discrete funding source as it was in the past.”

YouthWorks was created in 1996 by then-Mayor Kurt Schmoke when it seemed as though federal funding for summer job programs might not be available. YouthWorks raised money from private sources, to ensure that even as federal dollars set aside for summer work programs dwindled, the city would be able to offer its kids work opportunities. In 1998 the federal Workforce Investment Act required local jurisdictions to provide year-round employment opportunities for young people, but it eliminated separate funding for summer jobs programs. So cities like Baltimore were forced to use their jobs money to cover both year-round and summer programs.

“Even though it’s a good idea that you have year-round activity for kids and they’re engaged all year, it means you serve less kids,” Cole says.

This is not the first time YouthWorks has come up short on funds. According to a July 2004 article in The Sun, 7,000 kids registered for the program that summer, but the city only had enough money to employ 2,780 of them. To save money and accommodate more applicants, the city cut the program from six weeks to five. The shortfall that year was blamed on a drop in donations from private sources, so for 2005 the city increased its investment in the program. This year Baltimore is putting $2.25 million toward the program, more than double its investment last year. And in May, the City Council approved an additional $250,000 for YouthWorks.

“We have to either pay now or we pay later,” says City Councilman Jack Young (D-12th). “I want to put more [money] in the youth programs because I believe that’s the way we’re going to turn the corner on all of this juvenile crime and juvenile delinquency. We got to have programs and processes in place to make things more attractive for them. And how do you do that? Money.”

Jobs begin on June 27, but Cole says YouthWorks will continue fundraising and will continue to place kids in jobs through the first week of July. Who will be accepted into the program will be determined on a first-come, first-served basis. Even at the kickoff rally, Mayor Martin O’Malley and other local dignitaries were still asking people to donate.

Gladden and Rose Street’s Ex-Felon’s Association have joined the fundraising effort by trying to convince churches and businesses to donate to YouthWorks this summer. So far Rose Street has raised $2,370—enough for two additional kids to work this summer.

But no matter how much grass-roots organizing goes on between now and the start of this summer’s program—just days away—there will likely be close to a couple of thousand kids who will not be able to reap the benefits of YouthWorks.

“You get kids revved up, you want them to apply and work during the summer, but then you can’t deliver,” Cole says. “That’s heartbreaking.”

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