Berkeley YouthWorks Provides Job Opportunities to Underprivileged Youth

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Berkeley Youth Program

True Shields talks with Employment Programs Administrator, Delfina Geiken about their funding

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Navigating a series of budget reforms created in response to the 2008 recession, the city of Berkeley's YouthWorks program seeks to build on the success of its Summer Youth Employment Program after presenting data gathered over the summer at the Berkeley City Council meeting Tuesday.

Recently relocated from the city's Health and Human Services Department to the Housing and Community Services Department, the YouthWorks program focuses on providing Berkeley youth aged 14 to 25 with employment opportunities they "might not be able to access otherwise," according to Jane Micallef, director of the city's housing department.

"(This program) gives youth - particularly low-income youth - an opportunity to be in an environment where they can pursue what they want to do," she said.

In summer 2010 alone the program placed 314 participants, including 29 Emery Unified School District students, in public and nonprofit agencies as well as in private sector businesses, such as Dollar Tree and Bacheeso's Garden Bistro.

The program, which specifically targets CalWORKs households - families at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level - focuses on South and West Berkeley, "as those are the areas with higher unemployment rates and lower-income families," according to Delfina Geiken, employment programs administrator of the city's housing department.

Having been recently integrated into the city's housing department, the program has new capabilities to consolidate administrative positions, monitor participants' work more closely and pool resources with other public works projects, such as the city's Weatherization Program, which provides home repairs and energy-saving renovations to low-income families.

"When the teens came in to pick up their last paycheck, every one of them got a flyer ... letting them know that their families' households could be eligible for assistance to weatherize their homes," Geiken said. "Everywhere you look, you can find a connection."

As the city continues to reform its budget in light of the projected $16.2 million deficit, the YouthWorks program seeks "targeted budget reductions" that should conserve around $21,000 for the 2011 fiscal year, according to city budget documents. The program is currently funded through the city's general fund, the Alameda County Workforce Investment Board and the Recovery Act.

These reductions were achieved by cutting back on office supplies and using in-program training to prepare participants for their jobs instead of sending them to RichmondBUILD, a program with goals similar to YouthWorks but specializing in green jobs.

Though hundreds of city employees voluntarily cut their hours to combat the city's deficit this year, the program has retained council support and consideration as an essential public service, according to Micallef.

"The council thinks (YouthWorks) is very important, and they help to promote the program and make sure that constituents in their districts are well-informed," Micallef said. "We should have no problem finding youth who are interested in and excited about employment."

The program's success in the coming months will depend on the housing department's ability to quantitatively evaluate its progress - even for such factors as youths' personal growth - and communicate its findings to city, county and national bodies which allocate funding to similar programs.

"The more we can create efficiencies, look for external funding sources and build off partnerships that exist but could be stronger, the better," Geiken said.


Contact True Shields at [email protected]

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