The county Workforce Development Board will launch a program to provide 260 high-risk youth with employment opportunities starting this summer, thanks to a $2 million federal grant.
Santa Maria Summer Jobs and Beyond will provide kids and young adults aged 16 to 24 with paid work experience opportunities, including summer and year-round jobs, according to Executive Director Raymond McDonald. The program ultimately aims to connect its participants with long-term career opportunities as well as decrease community violence and make sure young people have the opportunity to develop marketable skills.
McDonald said the grant will last for two years, during which the county will collaborate with high schools, the Center for Employment Training, Goodwill, and county probation to find young participants who need jobs and are at risk of connection to gangs.
The project, which McDonald said should launch by July, will include a jobs academy and career camp, job placement, career connections, lessons in parent engagement and education, and follow-up support for those involved.
“We’re showing them another way, so they won’t be turning to the gangs for their support and revenue,” McDonald said.
The Obama administration and Department of Labor launched their Summer Opportunity Project in February, according to a press release from the White House. The project included
$21 million in “Summer Jobs and Beyond” grants, to be distributed among 11 hard-hit communities around the U.S. where youth are susceptible to high unemployment and gang violence.
“Because of the situations that have happened in Santa Maria with increased violence and gang activity by young people, we thought Santa Maria needed to respond to this solicitation,” McDonald said. And it paid off—the city of Santa Maria was the federal grant’s only California-based recipient.
“Providing our young people with employment opportunities means not only a steady paycheck, but also important job skills that will serve them for the rest of their life,” U.S. Rep. Lois Capps (D-Santa Barbara) said of the program in a press release. “Making critical investments in young adults who serve our local communities is one of the most important things that we can do as a nation, which is why I am incredibly excited to see this innovative federal program coming to Santa Maria.”
McDonald said the Workforce Development Board hopes to continue the program even after the federal grant expires.
“We need to have connectivity and people in the community working together,” he said. “This is just a start for our young people.”