Despite Tough Restrictions, Youth Find Oakland Jobs From Stimulus
on August 3, 2009
By STEVE SALDIVAR
Non-profit organizations were ready to hand out pay-checks to underprivileged youth in Oakland this summer but were unprepared for the reality checks that went with them.
President Barack Obama’s stimulus package last February made it possible for Oakland to hire 1,000 youth this summer, but some agencies said the stringent qualifications narrowed the applicant pool to much. Applicants had to be at risk, which meant being a school dropout, homeless, an offender, pregnant or someone who “requires additional assistance to complete an educational program.”
The income restrictions meant, for example, that if a family of four made more than $22,050 a year they would be disqualified.
Thirty-three proposals from non-profit organizations and agencies were received and 13 were accepted. The Lao Family Community Development was one of those selected.
It like others, had to turn down youth applicants because their parents made too much money.
“Even one dollar is going to make a difference,” said Sudara, the youth leadership and employment coordinator. About 15 percent of their applicants were turned away because the parents made too much money.
The organization initially proposed finding 200 spots for underprivileged youth, but lowered their number to 150 in their proposal because of these regulations.
They were not the only non-profit or agency struggling to make the internships work.
“We help out low-income kids who have barriers to success,” said Janice Embrey, coordinator at People United for a Better Oakland, an organization teaching youth about environmental issues. “But it’s those barriers have kept kids from staying in the program,” said Embrey.
The organization took their interns out to collect food and help distribute it to senior centers around Oakland. Embrey had 31 spots to fill for the summer, but has yet to fill them all. She declined to say how many have gone unfilled.
“The eligibility process is very intense,” said Crystal Jackson, summer youth program coordinator at Oakland Private industry Council. “Some parent’s don’t want to provide information, sometimes young people lose their information and some youth don’t have social security cards.”
Even if the process has deterred some, most agencies and organizations said they found enough applicants on the first round or went down their waiting lists, said Jackson.
There is no “unused” or “leftover” money, said Jackson. All the funds have been accounted for when non-profits and agencies made their proposal. Everything from paying coordinators, payroll taxes and other costs. “All the money has been accounted for,” said said.
Despite the rules, the paychecks and the education youth receive is worth it, said Embrey.
The youth are working a maximum of 200 hours this summer and earn $1,600. Internships and jobs end September 30.
“We’ve been successful because they aren’t behind some desk shuffling papers or doing busy work,” said Embrey.
“They need money to buy school clothing because their parents have been laid off. We teach them how to write resumes, how to dress, prepare mock interviews,” said Sudara, who is responsible for employment of 150 youth. The organization was awarded $112,000.
“Youth are receiving life skills training and job training, getting experience and making connections in the community,” said Crystal Jackson, summer youth program coordinator for the council. “They are getting money to put in their pockets so they can put money into Oakland and into the economy.”
“It gives youth work experience and they earn a little money,” added Ky Sudara, whose organization focuses on helping to assist South East Asian refugee and immigrant communities.
Some of the 13 organizations funded hired the youth directly and others found internships for them in everything from serving ice cream at Ben and Jerry’s to re-shelving books at Oakland libraries.
“This has helped business and non-profits who can’t afford to pay people to do the job,” said Sudara,
Once the summer is over, so is the stimulus money. The Lao Family Community Development agency will continue to fund some of the positions from its budget, the the stumulus money dries up on September 30.
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