Hartford and Manchester are among a dozen communities across the country involved in maximizing use of federal stimulus money to get high school dropouts and other "disconnected" young people into the working world.
Sponsored by the National League of Cities, the program involves training youth service and jobs specialists on how to use stimulus funds to help young people who have left school, lack jobs and skills, and are in danger of becoming chronic drains on society. The formal title of the effort is City Leaders Re-engaging Disconnected Youth through Economic Recovery Efforts.
Through September, the league, a Washington, D.C.-based resource and advocacy organization, will host a series of online seminars, called "webinars," with officials in Hartford, Manchester and 10 other communities, including Newark, N.J., and Rochester, N.Y. The sessions will focus on ways to get young people who have left school and work back on the path to fruitful careers.
The American Resources and Recovery Act includes $1.2 billion to help local work-force investment boards expand youth employment, according to Carlos Becerra, a senior program associate at the national league. Thirty percent of the money must be spent on out-of-school youths, with a focus on summer jobs, Becerra wrote in a recent article for the league.
Webinars will target topics such as opportunities in "green" jobs and collecting data on disconnected youths, Becerra said Tuesday.
Participants learn from one another during the teleconference sessions and in online communications, Becerra said.
Hartford and Manchester were picked to participate in part because of strong municipal leadership and interest in youth-employment issues, Becerra said.
In the region that includes Hartford and Manchester, the league of cities works with Hartford-based Capital Workforce Partners. Federal stimulus money is now supporting 1,100 young people, including some dropouts, in jobs this summer in the 37 communities that Capital Workforce Partners serves, agency spokeswoman Sandra Rodriguez said.
Federal rules require that stimulus money be used to support "actual work experience," Rodriguez said.
Current employers include municipal governments, St.
Francis Hospital and Medical Center, Hartford Hospital, the Metropolitan District Commission, Prudential Insurance and Stanley Tools.
Another 875 young people in the region have jobs supported by municipal funds, businesses and charitable programs, Rodriguez said.
Of the total 1,975 young workers, 1,200 are Hartford residents. Of those, 180 are not attending school, Rodriguez said. In Manchester, 15 of 45 workers are out of school, she said.
Manchester Human Services Director Mary Roche Cronin said the webinars should help her and those she works with fill gaps in the local youth service network.
"We are going to look at who else we should invite to the table," Cronin said.
Local officials have some data on "disconnected" youths, including figures on young people living in the local homeless shelter and those in trouble with the law.
In fiscal year 2007-08, the shelter served 29 people aged 18-19 and 174 in their 20s, Cronin said. In the same period, 89 children and youths were arrested or referred to judicial authorities by various agencies. In 2008-09, the total was 165, Cronin said.
For such young people, a summer job with career potential can be motivating, particularly because of the new people they meet, said Jim Boucher, future workforce division director at Capital Workforce Partners.
"The caring adult that is now more inserted in their lives, whether it's a supervisor at a work site or a youth development professional," Boucher said, "the caring adult that is mentoring the young person has a lot to do with success."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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