The D.C. Summer Youth Employment Program will be expanded within the next six months to include a year-round internship, city officials have announced.
The $1.5 million project is a result of the federal Work Force Investment Act of 1998, which requires that the city offer year-round job training.
The internship is still in the planning stages, said Rita Cooper, associate director of the District's Office of Youth Programs, part of the D.C. Department of Employment Services. The office hopes to provide at least 700 jobs and expects to begin the program between October and January.
"This will be a substantive taste of the world of work," Cooper said. "It fits perfectly with our summer jobs program."
The year-round internship drew mixed reactions at offices of some nonprofits and companies that provide jobs for the youth program, also known as Summerworks. Because of the impending year-round internship, this year's Summerworks was reduced from six weeks to five.
"The program was originally meant to be eight weeks," said Melvin Deal, founding executive artistic director of African Heritage Dancers and Drummers in Northeast Washington, which provided 20 jobs this summer. "A lot of the young people use the summer job program to buy school clothes and school supplies. This year, it was ridiculous."
Deal said he hopes some of the students will return for the year-round program, a sentiment echoed by other youth employers.
"Hopefully we, too, will see some students back," said Lawrence Jordan, tobacco initiative project director at the D.C. Department of Health, where students were used in undercover "sting" operations to purchase cigarettes from vendors. "It would be a more substantive approach, because five weeks is too short."
Others worried that the city's employment services department cannot effectively handle the new program, given its history of problems.
Summerworks started in 1979. In the early 1980s, it was plagued with troubles. Paychecks were late, student workers complained there was nothing to do, and companies complained about the work ethic of the young people. But the program, which since 1985 has guaranteed a job to every D.C. youth from 14 to 21 who wants one, regardless of income, was popular--and was touted by former mayor Marion Barry as one of the most impressive successes of his long tenure.
Still, critics said the office was too disorganized to handle such a massive employment effort. In 1997, after Barry announced that he was having a tough time finding 1,500 more jobs from the private sector, angry business leaders said they had called Employment Services to pledge jobs--but had been put on hold and couldn't leave voice-mail messages because the mailbox was full.
This summer, the program provided jobs for 10,000 young people, about the same number as last year, Cooper said. The program, which ended last Friday, places youth in entry-level jobs such as clerical workers, manual laborers, mail-room clerks and messengers. It also provides arts training in programs such as African dance and creative writing. Pay for the young employees is from $5.15 to $10 an hour.
The budget of $5.9 million is the same as last year, although some of those funds were earmarked for the one-year program, Cooper said. Last week, Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) pledged to add to the summer jobs fund by increasing next year's budget by $1.2 million.
This year, private businesses offered about 1,500 jobs, Cooper said, and employers seemed happy with the performance of the youth.
Marianne Becton, who supervises the Summerworks program at Bell Atlantic, said the program, despite its problems, is an important investment for corporations.
"Frankly it's a lot of mothering. You talk about attire and attendance with the youth," Becton said. "But if someone doesn't spend this type of time with them, they are not ready for work."
Bell Atlantic provided 30 jobs this summer, at $7 an hour, both inside the company and with nonprofits that work with the company, she said.
Bell Atlantic management was happy to hear about plans to start a one-year program.
"This is an investment," Becton said. "An important investment."