The District's first attempt to mold a summer job program specifically for Hispanic youths has been bogged down in a series of problems that may have prevented many youths from working this summer, according to Hispanic leaders.
The problems include a lack of coordination between the D.C. government and leaders of local Hispanic organizations, placement of youths who speak no English in jobs requiring English, and failure to pay the youths on time.
The D.C. Summer Youth Employment program enlisted the help of the Hispanic Youth Employment Coalition to register youths for the program and find jobs for participants. But there were problems from the beginning.
The coalition registered 205 youths but so far only 83 ahve been assigned to the coalition to get jobs.
"We still do not know about the balance of those kids who registered," said Andres Archila, director of the coalition. He said the coalition set up 56 work sites in the public and private sector that would employ the youths.
According to Archila, all Hispanic youths who signed up for the summer program were supposed to be funneled through the coalition to get jobs. But that hasn't happened.
What has happened, say Hispanic officials, is a mass integration of the youths into English-speaking work sites, which the Hispanic groups approve of only with adequate assessment of the young workers' language skills. a
"People are suggesting mainstreaming our kids and I agree, but not without some sort of help," said Willie Vasquez, director of the Office of Latino Affairs.
Archila said a city official told him the youths would not be given to the Hispanic job program because they need to learn English. "He (the city official) said, 'I am more inclined to send them (Hispanic) to 'mainstream' programs so they can be integrated. They do not need special programs for English. Look at you."
City officials were not available for comment and did not return repeated phone calls. Archila said after a meeting Tuesday with Mathew F. Shannon, director of operations for the Department of Employment Services, that the city is aware of the problems. What, if anything, will be done hasn't been decided, he said.
Enrique Riviera, director of the Latin American Youth Center, said he believes it is important to make provisions for Hispanic teen-agers that take into account special langauge needs. "To the extent that these other youth programs do not have and cannot address these needs, we oppose mainstreaming programs," said Riviera.
Last month, the coalition wrote a letter outlining its complaints about the program to the city. But no reply has been received, Archila said.
Another problem was a delay in paying the youths. On July 8, the program's first payday, 23 youths did not get paid. They were scheduled to get their first paychecks Wednesday.
Other problems occurred during the registration for the job program. In a series of hastily devised special registration meetings at Woodrow Wilson High School in May, lack of communication between Department of Employment Service officials and Hispanic youth leaders resulted in a group of 40 teens waiting for hours before the doors of the mini-employment center opened.
"One major problem is that often for these kids, registering for a job is a frightening and intimidating process," said Archila, who recalled one young woman who was told she did not qualify her family's income of $7,500 for four was too high. She would have qualified.
Vasquez said the city and hispanic community could organize a better program next year, but added the obligation is "a dual one."
Vasquez said the program may have employed more youths with better coordination. "We can recruit a hell of a lot more than 83 kids. We need lead time to go out to the high schools and junior high schools to register."
Some youths have been placed in jobs through the coalition, such as 15 in the New Horizons program, operated out of the Office of Latino Affairs. The students are taking a survey of youth in the city.
Ana Osequeda, 16, of 2544 13th St. NW, who is in the New Horizons program, agrees with Hispanic officials that some orientation is needed for Hispanic youths. She sees a need for programs like New Horizons. "One of the big problems of youth, especially Spanish youth, is the cultural change, the language. We need extra orientation."