Brittany King, acting president of the Port Towns Youth Council, was misidentified in a photo in last week's Prince George's Extra. (Published 10/27/1999) The Rev. Gail A. Addison, who founded a summer jobs program for youths in the Port Towns, lives in New Carrolton. Her place of residence was incorrect in last week's Prince George's Extra. (Published 10/27/1999)
She pulled it off.
The youths in Prince George's Port Towns said they wanted jobs, and the Rev. Gail A. Addison was determined to deliver. How one woman succeeded in bringing together local businesses, town governments, a county agency and parents to provide jobs and life lessons for 38 young people in their own community is nothing less than remarkable.
Other communities looking to provide meaningful opportunities for their teenagers would do well to take note.
First, Addison watched and listened.
As the community outreach pastor for New Covenant Church of the Lord Jesus Christ in Colmar Manor, she was invited three years ago to take part in revitalization efforts being planned by the Port Towns, which include Bladensburg, Colmar Manor and Cottage City. When she looked around the room and didn't see any young people, she suggested that the leaders include teenagers in the effort.
"I told them that if you don't include them now, they will tear up what you have done in three years because they have no ownership in it," Addison recalled.
In May 1997, the Port Towns Youth Council was born. With 27 students chosen from area schools, the council advises the towns. The students offer an action plan, which they update each January. While working on the plan last year, they told Addison they needed jobs.
She went to work.
The request tapped into Addison's God-inspired desire to help young people. Through her own youth ministry, End Time Harvest Ministries Inc., she drew up a plan, won the approval of the youth council and town governments and went knocking on the doors of businesses to ask for support. She promised the business owners they would not regret it if they hired students from the summer Port Towns Jobs-For-Youth Program.
More than 30 businesses responded, offering 115 jobs.
Don Stewart, vice president of Cottage City-based MicroMedia Laboratories Inc., wrote in an evaluation that Addison's efforts cut the time and energy it would have taken his company to find the two quality recruits he hired through the summer jobs program.
"I truly believe she also lowered our risk," Stewart said. "A hiring error is one of the costlier mistakes a small service business can make."
Addison, a D.C. resident, meticulously screened the 162 applicants--three times. Students had to meet basic qualifications: They had to be ages 14 to 18, live, attend school or worship in the Port Towns and have at least a 2.0 grade-point average and a good attitude.
Addison interviewed each job candidate and their parents and invited them to a two-hour orientation. Parents had to sign an agreement, promising their support. The students were even observed at school.
By the time the process was done, the list had been whittled to 38 students. Was Addison worried that the power of her program would be diminished if she didn't have enough students to fill all the jobs?
"I don't measure success that way," she said. "I measure success by if you intake 38 and 38 complete the program, that's a success. We lost not a one."
Addison said she tried to place the students in jobs related to their career interests, though that was not the program's ultimate goal. The goal, she said, was to teach responsibility and other life skills necessary to be a productive citizen. The youths attended a mandatory job training workshop to learn what was expected, and they met periodically over the summer for fun activities that helped them stay in touch.
Together, the students made more than $45,000. Those younger than 16 had to complete a volunteer form, and most of them received a $600 stipend. All of the other workers were paid regular salaries by the employers.
Sheryl Tibbs, a senior at Bladensburg High School, said she enjoyed her job at the Rolling Pin Bakery in Bladensburg because it gave her something useful to do.
"It helped me by keeping me off the streets and out of trouble," she said in her evaluation. "As part of this program, I have learned to save money that will pay for my senior expenses."
In the end, 37 of the 38 businesses said this past summer they would be willing to invite the students back to work. The participating businesses were a mix of restaurants, a grocery, pharmacy, video store, bakery, media lab, theater, contractor, the University of Maryland, the Town of Bladensburg and the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.
The Park and Planning Commission played a key role, too, by inviting businesses to participate, printing the brochures and training materials and even hiring 11 students.
But the program's success is clearly a reflection of Addison's work. The good reverend knew what she was doing.
She was ordained in 1987 by Pastor Juanita Turner at New Covenant. Addison won't reveal her age, but she retired from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in 1994 after 29 years of advocacy on behalf of veterans and community outreach. As an extension of her job, she once set up a Partnership In Education Program that paired her agency with Eastern High School in the District.
While working for the VA in New York, she set up a satellite campus of the Bronx Community College at the VA's Bronx Medical Center. The community's large Latino population could study English right there in the nurse's station.
The Port Towns jobs program ended in September with an awards ceremony that drew more than 200 people. County government hires young people through Park and Planning and individual agencies each summer, but Addison's structured program clearly filled a void in the Port Towns. She is hoping other communities will follow suit.
"This is too good to keep locked up in the Port Towns," she said.
I'll second that notion.
To comment or suggest a story idea, feel free to write me at 14402 Old Mill Rd., Suite 201, Upper Marlboro, Md. 20772; send me an e-mail at frazierL@washpost.com; or call me at 301-952-2083.
CAPTION: The Rev. Gail A. Addison hugs Tiffany Johnson at the Port Towns Jobs-For Youth awards ceremony in September.