Baltimore has recently been in the press for a lot of the wrong reasons. Many of the challenges facing the city have an especially significant impact on the young people living at the epicenter of the tumult. Combined with the end of the school year and the disruption in schedules, there is the potential for further conflict to develop.

School may be out, but that doesn’t mean that the youth of Baltimore City are dismissed for summer. In light of the unrest and tension affecting the city, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, with the backing of the business community and state government, has grown the city’s YouthWorks program to support 8,000 summer jobs for young people ages 14 to 21.

YouthWorks Connects Young Workers with Employers

The Mayor’s Office of Employment Development has run the YouthWorks program, which connects youth workers with nonprofit and local government employers, for over 30 years. Mayor Rawlings-Blake expanded the program to include private-sector work sites via the Hire One Youth campaign to provide additional opportunities to Baltimore’s youth population. YouthWorks participants complete five-week employment experiences and earn at least the minimum wage of $8.25 per hour. Funding for the program for 2015 came from a variety of sources, including $1.7 million from the city, $2.3 million from the governor’s office, $1 million from the Maryland Department of Human Resources, $3.5 million from foundations, and $1.5 million from corporate and individual donors. Interestingly, though individual donors only contributed a total of $16,000 to the program, many of these donations came from community members giving $25 or $50, an indication of community support for the program.

There are approximately 700 program-related employment sites around Baltimore City, including the Baltimore City Police Department, the Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health Systems, the Baltimore Sun Media Group, the Royal Sonesta Harbor Court Hotel, and the Enoch Pratt Free Library. Participants were also placed with the public/nonprofit partnership Art@Work: Sandtown, which put young residents of Sandtown-Winchester to work creating murals in their neighborhood and provided the teens with a safe and constructive outlet to express themselves. In addition to gaining work experience, YouthWorks participants complete financial education classes. The Maryland Transit Administration also distributed free passes for some participants’ commutes.

YouthWorks Sandtown Mural

Youth employed by Art@Work: Sandtown completing a mural. Source: Jaclyn Borowski, Baltimore Business Journal.

Job Development Programs Provide Valuable Experiences

The benefits of the YouthWorks program are numerous. Obviously, young workers will earn paychecks and will have income to spend and ultimately support additional local jobs—at the movie theater, the mall, restaurants. The tasks that YouthWorks participants complete–from creating murals in West Baltimore to assisting in a hospital or public library—benefit society. Furthermore, the experiences that these participants gain will provide valuable lessons about interacting in a professional setting and will contribute to workforce development, even if workers choose not to pursue careers in the same fields as their summer work experiences. Research has shown that having a summer job in adolescence increases an individual’s lifetime earnings. Business leaders have also noted that their experiences with millennials give them a sample of what the future workforce may be like as well as give businesses the opportunity to tell schools about any potential skills gaps before those gaps become too pronounced.

Programs such as YouthWorks are important on a more philosophical level as well. YouthWorks gives its participants gainful employment over the summer when they otherwise might have limited opportunities. They are held to professional standards in a professional environment—an empowering and important life skill. The program also shows a renewed commitment to the success and well-being of the young people of Baltimore City, which is especially important given the events of the past several months.