Richmond expands job opportunities year-round for city youth
on July 30, 2021
Cinthia Hernandez was on the verge of dropping out of high school when she joined Richmond’s YouthWORKS in 2008. She credits the job program with much of her later success — an internship with the California Attorney General’s Office, a bachelor’s degree in social welfare from UC Berkeley, and her current position of program assistant for the project that helped shape her.
“The summer youth employment program was able to open so many doors for me,” Hernandez said.
Over the next year, the program hopes to offer opportunities year-round to many more city youth. The City Council approved a $1.9 million increase in funding for YouthWORKS in the city’s recently approved budget. The funding came from the Re-imagining Public Safety Initiative, which diverts money from law enforcement to broader investments in public safety.
YouthWORKS started in 2004 as a crime reduction tool and job training program funded by the city. The program partners with public and private organizations who hire young people between the ages of 16 and 24 for positions that pay $15.21 an hour.
With the additional funding, YouthWORKS expects to train 500 applicants for internships health care, animal welfare, social justice advocacy and government.
That goal may be difficult to achieve, given that the program has received only 370 applications this year. In 2020, the pandemic reduced placements to 157. The program has been making adjustments to reach its new goal. It has removed application deadlines and transitioned from a summer program to one that’s year-round.
“When we get about 30 applicants, we’ll do a week of workshops via Zoom. And the following week, they’ll start their placements,” Hernandez said.
So far, the program has partnered with 60 worksites that can support up to 500 young people, but it will continue recruiting partners. The program is responsible for paying the participants, which is an incentive for the worksite partners.
“Most worksites are nonprofits and small businesses that need the extra help to survive, so it’s a win-win for everyone,” YouthWORKS program Director Bouakhay Phongboupha said.
During the City Council budget meeting in late June, the initiative mostly garnered support from Richmond residents, including former Vice Mayor Jovanka Beckles.
“I’ve been working with Richmond youth, with families that have been disenfranchised. In my capacity, I’ve seen the difference it can make when young people have the resources they need to be able to participate in sports and have employment,” Beckles said.
Hernandez said the program also offers youth “a safe space where they are able to come in and not be judged,” which is something she valued as a participant.
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