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Councilmen Seek Improvements to Summer Jobs Program

Last month, an audit found that Youth Works, Baltimore’s summer youth jobs program for roughly 8,000 young people, was riddled with problems and in danger of losing state funds. Now, two city councilmen are trying to provide more support for young adults in those programs.

Council members, Zeke Cohen, who represents an East Baltimore district, and Kristerfer Burnett, whose district touches the western border of the city, are looking to expand “This is Working,” a program under the Youth Works umbrella.

The program provides summer jobs for youth in both the private and government sectors, but Cohen says unlike Youth Works, “This is Working” is not just about summer employment.

“We want to make sure the summer work experience is robust,” says Cohen. “That it is not just work a job for five-weeks but is work, but also learn.”

Take, for example, Kai Anderson, a 15-year-old sophomore at Patterson High School who has been working at Canton Car Wash in East Baltimore this summer under the program. He announces when cars are ready over the loud speaker, wipes cars down, and sprays them with fragrance.

Kai says, so far, he likes his job.

“It’s awesome. You know I like socializing,” he says. “You know I like creating bonds with customers, and I like getting experience along the way.”

Kai is one of the 22 young adults in the program.

In addition to washing cars and shuffling papers youth in the program receive advice from a teacher or mentor, guidance on how to prepare and apply for a job, and Friday field trips to Baltimore-based industries to see what future careers are out there.

“We need to make sure employers are offering opportunities for our young people to participate in the 21st century workforce,” says Cohen. “We also need to make sure our young people have structure, supervision, and coaching in job skills.

Skills that kids employed solely with Youth Works don’t get, he says.

Ronald Harris, 17, is another car wash employee. He says the coaching has helped him learn about himself as a worker.

“With This Is Working I’ve seen a major difference with myself personally,” says Ronald. “It showed me how to be a professional. How to always apologize even though you know you are right; how to be on time.”

Mike McGinnis, the manager at Canton Car Wash, says he’s seen changes in Kai and Ronald.

“You know they come in willing to work, willing to learn,” he says. “I remember being their age and working as well, so I can understand the, ‘oh my goodness look at all these cars and all these people.’”

Cohen says he would like to see the program expand to other youth workers because it has done so well on a small scale, but he says money is tight.

“Doing something that truly moves the needle for our children, is going to take investment,” says Cohen. “Right now we're doing this program on a shoe string. 

In 2018 the Youth Works program received $1.5 million from the state. That number is expected to increase to $1.6 million for next summer. While the Youth Works continues fundraising year round, Cohen says he’d like to see more.

"What I would like to see is that the city put a stake in the ground and determine that investing in our young people and in their workforce opportunities is good public money,” he says.

For now, Ronald will continue part-time employment at Chipotle after the summer and Kai will continue working for Canton Car Wash during the school year. Both young men have their eyes set on college and are saving for it.

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