City wraps up revamped summer jobs program

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that no one had been charged in connection with the one of the cases of alleged sexual misconduct. A man was charged in that case on July 13. This version has been corrected.

August 4, 2011

The District’s summer jobs program was supposed to be smaller, cheaper and “more efficient” this year, as Mayor Vincent C. Gray said again and again. All told, it had 7,000 fewer participants and probably cost a few million dollars less.

The mayor’s budget office estimates the six-week program — scaled back to 14,000 participants after years of rising costs and logistical chaos — will spend a total of $18.8 million. That’s about $250 more a person than last year, when the program cost $22.8 million and served about 21,000 people.

The Department of Employment Services, which runs the program, could not provide a detailed explanation for the higher costs, but officials have previously cited the extra work that goes into assigning participants, training supervisors and running orientation sessions.

One initiative that did not add to the costs, officials said, was the effort — dubbed “One City Summer Fun” — to offer unpaid alternative activities for young people left out of the program.

A spokesman for Department of Employment Services said the agency will not know the final cost of the entire program until after the last payday next week but expects it to be under budget.

In an interview, Gray said the program had overcome many of its past problems.

“The goal was to do a well-run program, and this has been a well-run program, with not a lot of glitches or problems,” Gray said Wednesday. “We wanted kids to have jobs where they go every day, do things every day, show up on time and get along with people.”

But some parents and community groups questioned whether ironing out the administration of the program did enough to create a valuable work experience for the young people who participated.

Logistics and learning

The program, which pays 14- to 21-year-old D.C. residents to work in government agencies and local businesses, was initially capped at 12,000 participants, with a $16.3 million budget. On the first day, after revised revenue estimates freed up an additional $3 million to $5 million, the mayor expanded it, adding 2,126 participants, which he said emptied the waiting list. (More than 20,000 had originally registered.) The expansion cost $2.5 million.

Officials said this year’s program saw far fewer complaints of payroll problems and “kid-dumping” — or sending participants to work sites where they had nothing to do, as happened in recent years.

But the program still had its share of mix-ups. Justin Ferrell was assigned to work at the Department of Justice but couldn’t get a security clearance because he is 15. His mother, Erica Ferrell, said he was reassigned to a clerical job at a city agency, but it was too advanced for him, so they decided to give up on the program. Justin was paid about $50 for his trouble.

“I couldn’t understand it, because they knew how old he was when he applied,” Erica Ferrell said.

Lisa Mallory, director of the Department of Employment Services, said the quality of work experiences improved this year because, for the first time, participants were matched to jobs based on their interests, and employers could interview and screen applicants.

John Hamilton, a 19-year-old TV production major at Norfolk State University in Virginia who lives in Brookland, worked at a production company in Georgetown, where he planned, wrote, shot and edited a documentary.

“I’ve shot stuff before on my own, but never in a documentary format with someone looking over my shoulder who knows what they’re doing,” he said, adding that some of his friends couldn’t find work or took jobs that were less relevant to their career aspirations. “Some are just getting money in their pockets — and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

Hamilton’s job, along with those of 64 other participants, was arranged by the Urban Alliance Foundation, which runs youth training and mentoring programs. Its director, Veronica Nolan, said the program’s success should be judged on the skills and experience that participants gain.

“The city needs to decide what is the purpose of the summer jobs program — is it a crime prevention strategy, in which case it makes sense to hire as many youths as possible, or is it a quality jobs program that gets youths on the right track to a viable career?” she said.

Safety concerns

After a smooth start, the program was rocked by two allegations of sexual misconduct in its first week.

One occurred at the headquarters of the Department of Employment Services, where a 54-year-old file clerk with a criminal record made sexual advances on a 17-year-old summer hire. Thomas D. Nelson, 54, pleaded guilty Wednesday to attempted second-degree sexual abuse of a minor in a significant relationship.

In the other incident, a 19-year-old participant said a construction contractor touched her inappropriately at Anacostia Senior High School in Southeast. A man turned himself in on July 13 in connection with the incident, according to authorities. The man, Grady A. Goff, 33, of Upper Marlboro, was charged with misdemeanor sexual abuse, attempted misdemeanor sexual abuse and assault, according to court records.

Security concerns resurfaced on the program’s first payday, when the mayor’s office directed the city’s firefighters to help monitor certain intersections near banks where program participants collect pay.

The cap on the summer jobs program left many young people complaining about a lack of jobs, though city officials from the mayor down defended the program’s record. At a town hall meeting Saturday, one young person handed the mayor 10 pages of signatures she said she collected from youths in her neighborhood who were looking for jobs.

A spokesman for employment services later said that of the 94 names on the petition, 75 never applied to the summer jobs program, five applied but didn’t submit eligibility papers, 13 participated, and one was fired for falsifying her time card.

“We cannot knock on your door and say, ‘Here’s a job for you!’ ” Mallory said. “That’s not the real world.”

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