District's summer youth jobs program off to rough start for some

By Stephanie Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 29, 2010; B05

On Monday morning, William Perry did as he was told, reporting for work at the Benning Park Recreation Center in Southeast Washington.

But Perry and his friends, participants in the District's Summer Youth Employment Program, were told, he said, that they weren't needed, because the center had too many workers. Then, he said, they were told that there was a possibility of working at the Sherwood Recreation Center in Northeast, but that turned out to have more workers than needed, too. After that, they were sent to Gallaudet University and were told to call the program's office Tuesday at 6 a.m. to find out where to go next.

"They told us we were going to do one thing, but we didn't do it," said Perry, 17, a Ballou High School graduate. "They basically gave us false information."

The chronically mismanaged Summer Youth Employment Program was, again, off to a rocky start Monday. Of the 21,000 youths enrolled, about 700 were attempting to transfer from one workplace to another for reasons related to health, safety or site issues. They took their paperwork and headed to a makeshift office in Gallaudet's gym, many riding city-provided buses from the Department of Employment Service's office on H Street NE.

Joseph P. Walsh, department director, did not respond to requests for comment.

The program aims to give D.C. youths, 14 to 21 years old, work experience in local businesses and city agencies. It began under then-Mayor Marion Barry in 1979. It has drawn criticism in recent years for a lack of oversight. In 2008, it went more than $30 million over budget, paying some youths who did not work or were ineligible for the program, including more than 200 who were not District residents.

Jasamine Martin, 20, said that in three years participating in the program, she hadn't encountered complications until now.

"I'm a little upset and frustrated, because it's hot, and you had to travel from the work site to Gallaudet," said Martin, who enrolled in April. "You'd think if you signed up early, you'd get a spot, and people who signed up late would not get a spot."

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