Stimulus money funds Summer Youth Employment Program
JoAnne Allen was 15 years old when she got her first job working at a department store. Looking back, Allen, now the manager of Student Support Services at the Santa Cruz County Office of Education (CoE), is thankful for having been an employed teen.
“It showed me that I really wanted to be in the world of work and that I needed to get through high school so I could go to college,” she remembers. “It showed me a path that high school didn’t even show me, because it was real experience.”
Allen is hoping that the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP), a current effort of the CoE, will help local youth feel the same. The program will enroll 300 youth between the ages of 14 and 24 for six weeks of summertime employment at various job sites around the county. Their wages, and other costs of running the program, will be paid for with stimulus dollars.
As bits and pieces of the $787.2 million Recovery Act begin to trickle down into plain view, “shovel-ready” projects and pre-existing programs are being favored as recipients of the funds. Part of the package allocates funds for Youth Formula Grants through the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) of 1998. Because the CoE was the area’s pre-existing provider of WIA youth services, they are the recipients for this portion of federal funding. The CoE youth employment services previously worked with 250 low-income youth in South County and foster children county-wide, but is putting the new funding toward expanding its services.
“I wanted to open it to the whole world, but it’s not,” says Allen. “But it’s broadening because right now we only serve Watsonville. We can now serve the remainder of the county youth that meet our criteria, which is exciting.”
The criteria has also changed to fit the federal guidelines, making it easier for youth to be eligible. Whereas WIA previously required four eligibility measures and held to a maximum age of 21, applicants to SYEP only have to meet federal low income and readiness to work guidelines (the latter of which requires citizenship or a green card). Foster children automatically qualify, although those aging out of foster care still must meet the aforementioned guidelines. Over 400 youth have registered on the SYEP website, http://tinyurl.com/SYEPworksite , in anticipation of the April 24 application deadline.
Once enrolled, the 300 selected youth will undergo orientation, job skill training and interview processes before beginning their jobs, internships or apprenticeships in their area of interest. This year, Allen says the focus will be on getting youth in green careers, but they will also have opportunities in medical fields, law enforcement, community based organizations, hospitality, construction and more. “Whatever the youth is interested in, if we don’t already have a job we will call those types of places and solicit a partnership to them,” she says.
The county’s unemployment rate recently hit 12.6 percent, and is as high as 25.7 percent in Watsonville. With so many adults out of work, why is it so important to employ the youth? When teens have jobs they are less likely to get into trouble, says Allen, but they are also made into more active consumers. “If you make money, you spend money in the community, which stimulates the local economy,” she says. She adds that the program will also prepare them to enter the workforce as more qualified, experienced adults.
“This is not like summer job programs of the past. We aren’t just sticking them in jobs to get them money in their pocket,” she says. “We’re looking at what their goals and interests are, and aligning it with educational goals.”
While most of the WIA funds are for summer programs, the CoE hopes to spread them out to help run a yearlong program. They also plan to run SYEP again next summer, with hopes of having it become a permanent fixture in Santa Cruz County even after the federal funding has run out. Currently, they are looking for more work sites in the area to partner with them for this summer’s pilot program.
Allen sees the program as an opportunity for the whole county to benefit. “It’s something positive amidst everything going negative because of budgets,” she says.
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