Posted on 06-23-2011
by Maureen Kelleher, trad. Víctor Flores
A few years ago, Steven Cortes left Curie High School without a diploma. Now, at age 20, he’s working in a call center, has college credits under his belt and is hoping to transfer to DePaul University in the fall.
“I just felt lost in high school,” he says. “They had good activities. It was just my mindset.”
Cortes, who lives in the McKinley Park neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, learned the value of an education through a year of working day labor jobs in factories and kitchens. The experience motivated him to get his GED and start classes at Harold Washington College.
In April, his cousin told him about Jobs for Youth, a free education and employment readiness program for young adults aged 17 to 24. Through their 15-day work readiness boot camp he polished his resume and learned interviewing skills. With their help he landed the job at the call center. “Now I’m sitting at a desk, working at a computer,” he says. “It’s a whole different perspective with this job.”
Being out of school and out of work can be an isolating and difficult experience. For some young people, it can be the gateway to long-term problems like criminal activity. Community agencies like Enlace Chicago and the Black Star Project are working hard to help youth avoid those problems and find their way back to the social and economic mainstream.
“Then you find ways you can support their lives, with family. Then you can start addressing behaviors like drug use, violence. When they have a sense of stability in their life, we can help address their employability,” she says.
Once youth are stable, Enlace refers them to partner organizations like Central States SER and Instituto del Progreso Latino, where they can further their education and get help with job hunting.
Enlace also works to help young people find summer jobs through Youth Ready Chicago. “We printed out dozens of applications and had every youth who walked in our office fill it out,” says Saclarides.
Black Star offers a Parent University to help parents recognize the signs their children may be headed for dropping out of school and connects them with resources that can help.
Jackson agrees that summer jobs are a key stepping-stone for young people as they enter the work force. “They learn interviewing skills, how to get up and go to a job every day. Rather than investing in more policemen we would do better to reduce violence and crime by investing in real jobs for young people,” Jackson says.
In this economy, even college graduates can use help sharpening their job-seeking skills. Lateteka McCarty, an Austin resident who graduated from Steinmetz High School and went on to earn a bachelor’s in English from the University of Illinois, spent a frustrating year job hunting and working a temporary factory job before she found Jobs for Youth.
Thanks to their bootcamp and job fair, McCarty is now working two jobs: on the information desk at the Illinois Secretary of State’s downtown office and as a clerk at The Limited.
“They definitely taught me how to set myself apart from other job candidates,” she says.