Summer Jobs For Kids: Mayor Barrett’s Summer Youth Jobs Initiative

by Ellen C. Warren, photo by Kurt Johnson

Karina Turner worked with volunteer coordinator Gib Caldwell this summer.

Milwaukee kids were working this summer, thanks to an initiative put together by the City of Milwaukee and funded by the State.

Mayor Barrett’s Summer Youth Jobs Initiative offered 350 jobs to young people in a variety of areas.

Non-profit and faith-based agencies were invited to participate by creating new jobs that otherwise would not have been available. The city covered the cost of hiring the young people, aged 16 to 20, for up to 120 hours of work for the period the program operated, between July 3 and August 18. The youth workers received a wage of $6.50 per hour. Crew leaders, who were a minimum of 21 years of age, were hired into agencies that offered eight or more positions. The crew leaders were allowed to work up to 150 hours during the program and earned a wage of $12 per hour.

In most cases agencies were authorized to hire up to three workers. In places that had preestablished youth employment programs and the necessary infrastructure and supervisory capabilities to handle larger numbers, up to 15 youth jobs were allowed.

Agencies that took on the challenge of creating jobs for the youth workers included Boys and Girls Clubs, the Grand Avenue Club, Journey House, the Latino Community Center, the Modjeska Theatre, Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, Spirit of Truth Worship Center, Westside Health, Yeshiva Elementary School and the YMCA Community Development Center.

It was through the auspices of the YMCA CDC that a few young workers found themselves involved in jobs in the Riverwest community. Two young women, Bettina Rogers and Karina Turner, were hired to work at the Riverwest Co-op. Gabriel Brito received employment with the Riverwest eARTh Park Maintenance Pilot Program.

Bettina, 18, and Karina, 17, each worked 24 hours per week during their employment with the Riverwest Co-op. Their job was helping to design and implement a Junior Volunteer Program for the children and young teenagers who wish to participate in volunteer work at the Co-op. Both young women found themselves surprised by their work environment.

“It’s very friendly here,” said Bettina with Karina adding, “It’s so nice here!” Neither of them had known what to expect, as they’d been completely unfamiliar with the Riverwest Co-op. They were enthusiastic about their part in developing the Junior Volunteer program. It was pleasing for them to work with kids. Bettina and Karina were especially delighted that the youngsters enjoyed the co-op environment as much as they did.

The girls finished their employment with the co-op more knowledgeable about nutrition and organic foods. Bettina said she’d learned it “is better than regular food from grocery stores.” They both plan to visit and probably volunteer with the Riverwest Co-op after their paid work there is done.

Bettina, a 2006 graduate of Riverside High School, will be joining the Army in the near future. Karina, who will graduate from Riverside in 2007, plans to continue her education at Marquette University.

Gabriel Brito, 16, put in most of his 20 hours per week in Riverwest’s Snail Crossing, the beautiful little park on Bremen Street. Occasionally he went across the river to help pull out buckthorn along the Eastbank Trail. At Snail’s Crossing he was involved in many forms of manual labor, from weeding and pulling out vines, to raking, sweeping and spreading new woodchips, to picking up garbage.

“It was work,” he said, sounding somewhat exhausted.

What he found more exhilarating were the creative aspects of his job. They included making and setting tiles as well as priming, sanding and painting. “I designed one of the garbage cans,” he proudly offered. He also appreciated that he’d learned much in his job about trees, native plants and animal habitats.

Unfamiliar with Riverwest, Gabriel found “the people in the community are a lot closer than I’m used to.”

Gabriel shortened his hours to 10 per week in the latter part of the program because he attends a year-round school, El Puente, where he is a sophomore. As of now his plan is to join the Marine Corps in a couple of years.

At this time it’s not known whether the Mayor’s program will be repeated. Judging by the experiences of the young people who found their way here to Riverwest and the positive response of the people who supervised them, it was a success. Let’s hope it was just the first year and this much-needed employment will be offered again next summer.

Riverwest Currents online edition – September, 2006