Teens on the job

Editorial Notebook

August 16, 2008|By Erich Wagner

Ever since TaShana Maddox was a little girl, she has wanted to become a veterinarian and open her own animal hospital. At her job this summer, a kind of entrepreneurial boot camp, she has learned the basics of running a small business, from balancing a checkbook to managing employees. TaShana is one of more than 6,500 students participating in YouthWorks, Baltimore's effort to provide summer jobs for teenagers, and a sure measure of its success - she's better prepared now to pursue her dream.

Mayor Sheila Dixon set out to find a job for every kid who applied for one, and with $1.3 million in pledged jobs, cash donations from Baltimore-area businesses and $300,000 from the state government, the city met the mayor's goal.

For the most part, the job seekers have lived up to their commitments: Only 6 percent of the participants were no-shows or didn't fulfill their end of the deal, according to city figures. That also speaks to caliber of the program and the job-seekers.

Teens in the Washington, D.C., summer jobs program were not as lucky. Mismanagement and disorganization there led to the enrollment of more applicants than the city could pay for. Some worked without being paid and others were paid for work they didn't do. The district's program also was run by someone who had never managed such a project, yet another failing.

Baltimore had experience on its side. Officials with YouthWorks, which has been operating for more than a decade, began planning for the summer last October. They kept to a firm March 28 deadline for applicants to ensure that enough funding and jobs could be arranged by the end of the school year. It paid to plan ahead.

Employing city youths in summer jobs is an investment in the future - theirs and Baltimore's. It gives teenagers something to do with their time and provides them with income they have earned. They learn about the working world and, as key, what's expected of them.

It's as basic as how to dress, when to show up and how to act toward employers and co-workers. But many youngsters may have no experience with this or have no one to guide them.

The YouthWorks participants also get a chance to explore career fields that interest them. Whether they're using computer software to draw engineering designs or working on a television production, they're getting valuable, behind-the-scenes experience that some wouldn't get before college. More important, these young people are forming relationships with mentors who will help and advise them throughout the year.

And in the case of two youngsters who spent the summer at Mercy Hospital, they got something more. Aquila Wilson, an incoming senior at Thurgood Marshall High, and Shaniqua Turner, an incoming senior at Heritage High, were offered part-time jobs at the hospital. Their summer jobs may be ending, but they're just beginning to reap the benefits.

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