Youth at Work battles crime

Street crime may be a temptation for youth in some New Haven neighborhoods, but a group of city aldermen is discussing ways to encourage teens to take a more positive path.

The Board of Aldermen’s Youth Committee met Wednesday to discuss two programs — a citywide database of youth services and a youth-employment initiative — that city officials hope will help stem youth violence. Aldermen received updates on the projects and debated how best to push them forward.

Members of the New Haven Board of Aldermen Youth Committee meet Wednesday to discuss youth-empowerment programs, such as the Youth @ Work program, which matches teens with local jobs.
Dounia Bredes
Members of the New Haven Board of Aldermen Youth Committee meet Wednesday to discuss youth-empowerment programs, such as the Youth @ Work program, which matches teens with local jobs.

The committee’s youth-employment initiative — called Youth at Work — aims to link teenage job-seekers with jobs for the summer or the entire year. The program is currently identifying employers who would be interested in hiring students for year-round positions, program coordinator Stephanie Barnes said. Employers this past summer included the AIDS Project New Haven and the St. Francis Home for Children.

Barnes said more than 1,200 teens earned a paycheck through the program this summer. A recognition event held at the end of the summer was a highlight of the program, she said.

“It was just to give students something at the end, and the work sites really responded by nominating over 100 students [for recognition],” Barnes said. “For a lot of these students, it was great to come out and be recognized in front of a roomful of people.”

But Barnes said this year’s program was not a complete success. Program directors reduced the funding for this year’s orientation because they felt they had spent too much the year before, and this reduced the effectiveness of the session, Barnes said.

Differences in the amount of work experience students brought into the program created other problems, she said. Those who had little work experience — and therefore needed the orientation the most — did not take it seriously. Barnes said more site assistants and training specialists should be hired next year to better address the varying levels of participants’ work experience.

The program aims to give New Haven teens a dose of real-world work experience, from mandatory attendance to regular paychecks. Those paychecks may have been disappointing to some first-time employees unaccustomed to the grim reality of taxes, aldermanic committee member Gerene Freeman said.

“I think it’s just the amount — that’s what stuns them,” she said.

Che Dawson, who is heading the city’s youth services database project, said he is currently surveying 50 community organizations in order to learn more about existing services and to pinpoint particular areas of need in the city.

Dawson said the trial version of the database should be ready by January.

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