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Heller center to manage $5m of Walmart jobs fund

Center for Youth and Communities will make grants, advise and evaluate impacts

Susan Curnan, director of the Center for Youth and Communities

For many teens, summer has less structure, which can mean an increase in making poor choices. In an effort to keep at-risk teens engaged and working, the Walmart Foundation this summer has provided over $20 million in grant programs, of which the Center for Youth and Communities (CYC) in Brandeis' Heller School for Social policy and Management has received $5 million to support work and learning programs that will employ, educate and engage nearly 3,000 at-risk youth.

Members of at-risk communities were identified, invited and encouraged to apply for the program. Cities that will take part include Phoenix and Maricopa County, Ariz.; New York City; Hartford, Conn.; Philadelphia; Chicago; Detroit and Los Angeles. The Brandeis CYC will serve as the national program office, which provides grants of up to $800,000 to government and nonprofit agencies responsible for implementing strategies to keep at-risk youth engaged in productive activity.

Through the Brandeis CYC, teens will have the opportunity to work 150 hours over a six-week period at hundreds of work sites, earning an average of $1200 for the summer. Researchers at the CYC will provide onsite assistance to grantees and monitor and evaluate the quality and impact of the work and learning programs.

Susan P. Curnan, director of the CYC, and study leader for many summer youth initiatives, said the program is based on a strong partnership approach involving leaders in at-risk communities, Brandeis and Walmart.

“The challenging social and economic conditions in this country are such that no one entity can go it alone,” says Curnan. “Summers matter. Over the long-term, youth who participate in year-round programs or multiple summer experiences can improve educational outcomes, are less likely to drop out, have less difficulty getting and keeping jobs after completing their education and have higher lifelong earnings than those who do not.”

Evelyn Diaz, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services, says teens participating in that city’s program this summer will be given 25 hours of work each week earning minimum wage, which in Chicago is $8.25 per hour. They will also receive intensive job coaching and mentoring.

Employment opportunities include special events promotion assistants; junior program coordinators for a non-profit that provides food to young children; community outreach positions, administrative workers and camp counselors.

“Our program is unique because it’s part of a vigorous evaluation conducted by the University of Chicago,” says Diaz. 

In a randomized control trial, some of the teens will participate only in the employment program, and another group will have their day divided to include a social and emotional learning project designed to help them develop skills to aid in their success in school, careers and life in general.

“We’re looking to see what the effects of each of those types of programs have on violence involvement and on school outcomes and future employment,” says Diaz. “Student outcomes will be studied over the next year, as well as future earnings over the next several years, to see if there are any long-term impacts.”

Diaz says the grant is important because summer programming is a way to keep youth productively engaged, minimizing learning loss and making sure that they are safe and off the streets.

“The Walmart Foundation grant, and our involvement with Brandeis allows us to implement this extra programming that’s targeting a group of kids who are particularly at high risk for being involved in violence,” says Diaz. “We’re hoping the evaluation will provide us with data and have national significance.”

In addition, the CYC is coordinating the Walmart Summer Youth Employment Initiative with the White House Summer Jobs Plus Initiative announced in early June 2012.  The report concludes that there needs to be increased collaboration between grants, grant makers and nonprofits to get young people educated and prepared for jobs.

 “Summer is a critical time for the continued health and development of our nation’s youth,” says Sylvia Mathews Burwell, president of the Walmart Foundation. “We know that providing access to meals, learning programs and job opportunities during the summer months will enable kids to return to school healthy, prepared and ready to succeed. By working closely with our nonprofit partners, we can help kids have better summers and ultimately, better lives.”

Categories: Humanities and Social Sciences

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