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Businesses and Non-Profits Offered Free Summer Student Help

Richmond summer youth work program needs business to step up

By Katherine Tam
West County Times

Posted: 05/15/2009 12:00:00 AM PDT

Updated: 05/17/2009 05:21:43 PM PDT


Richmond teens are lining up for summer job training by the hundreds, but there aren't enough businesses to take them.

With less than two months to go before the teens are supposed to start work, the city of Richmond is finding itself short of work sites for about 200 youths. Officials are trying to recruit more businesses by the end of May and fear they will have to turn teens away if they can't get enough.

"This year is challenging because of the economy," said Jay Leonhardy, program manager. "It's not free labor. It does take staff time to supervise and mentor, and employers are telling us they don't have it this year."

Richmond's summer youth employment program places people ages 15 to 21 at the sites of partnering community organizations and businesses, which allow teens to work up to 121 hours throughout the summer while providing supervision and mentoring. Youths can earn up to $1,000 for the summer, depending on how many hours they work.

The program handles more youths per capita than larger California cities, including Oakland and Los Angeles, Leonhardy said. Last year, it placed more than 500 youths in job sites.

Officials hope to reach 600 students this year, and have amassed $592,000 of the $600,000 in donations and grants needed to cover their wages; businesses that take on the youngsters do not pay from their own pockets.

Recruiting enough businesses to partner with the city has proved challenging this

year. They could place more students at work sites that have agreed to participate, but "we'd still be short," Leonhardy said.

Businesses don't get paid for participating. The payback, Leonhardy said, comes in the form of helping local youths get jobs, which reduces youth crime and pumps money back into the economy when the teens spend their new wages.

"The thing every youth has in common in this city is sooner or later, they're going to have to pull a paycheck," Leonhardy said. "We want local businesses to help groom them."

Michelle Chenault is a liaison between downtown businesses and the city. Some merchants with small operations don't think they need the extra help, but Chenault said she is trying to convince them that there's something to be gained in mentoring.

Chenault is organizing a new workshop this year for merchants to help them understand their role in the program.

She's also organizing training for young people about the retail industry and basic work etiquette, such as calling if they are arriving late and asking for clarity if they don't understand something. The youth training stems from feedback from merchants last year about skills some youths lack but need.

Kaiser Optical in Richmond had hoped to have five youths on board this summer but has reduced that number to three.

"The economy is affecting Kaiser like it is any place else," said Pam Johnson, who handles administrative operations. "We would have more, but we can't."

At K-9 Creations Pet Grooming in Pinole, owner Carmen Quispe said her business has its slow days but is faring well overall. She has disabled individuals and youths working at her office.

"They have ideas and sometimes they see things that you don't see," she said. "Nowadays, kids know a lot about computers. They know how to post things like (on) Twitter and MySpace. They use Excel. Obviously, they are going to make mistakes, but they learn and we both learn."

Reach Katherine Tam at 510-325-2618 or ktam@bayareanewsgroup.com.

More information
Call Jay Leonhardy at 510-307-8019 or Michelle Chenault at 510-236-4049.