By Mindy Cooper/Portland Observer
As summer vacation for Portland Public school began last week, Commissioner Loretta Smith unveiled a new summer mentorship program, which will provide 25 jobs this summer for youth within the community.
The need for the program became a priority for this year’s budget cycle after Commissioner Smith organized an issues forum for African American youth and men.
Nearly 200 people attended the standing room only event, where both men and young people within the community expressed what they see as necessary steps to ensure a better future.
“This program responds to the sentiment voiced in last month’s forum by young people that the best way to keep them and their peers off the street is with a job,” said Smith.
In response, she insisted the county budget include a focus on the need for employment opportunities for local youth, where there is currently a 30 percent unemployment rate for young people actively seeking opportunities.
“We are helping to keep kids off the streets, teaching them skills here at Multnomah County that will help them advance their education and careers,” said Smith.
The program, which is part of a summer youth Connect Partnership among Multnomah County, the city of Portland and the private sector, will pay for 25 young people to gain work experience throughout the summer.
“It will give our young people skills they need to advance their education in their opportunities for the future,” she said.
Multnomah County has partnered with the Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center at north Portland’s Rosemary Anderson High School, which will train the youth before they go to work in the offices, as well as Workforce Inc., which is providing funding with the county to make this program a success.
“Together, all of the combinations, have given our young people opportunities they not have had before,” Smith said.
When four young people who will be participating in the program were asked if it is hard to find a job, they all reacted passionately.
“I know tons of people my age looking for jobs,” said 17-year-old Giovanni McKenzie, who is interested in going into politics and economics in college. “This is a really good opportunity for me.”
After he sent over 50 resumes out trying to find a job in the past five months, Giovanni said he only received one call back for an interview for a job he didn’t receive.
Bre’on Dance, a 20-year-old college student and participant with the program, said people who are going into college, or are in college, also need money because they might not get enough money with financial aid or grants to support them.
Recent high school graduate Shirley Luo expressed her excitement for the opportunity.
“I am looking to gain more experience and skills that will help me later on in college and in careers and in life,” she said.
Smith challenges the community to follow the lead taken by Multnomah County, the city and businesses that have stepped up.
Among the businesses invested in the program is Pacific Power.
Pacific Power executive Pat Egan said he is hopeful other private sector companies will support jobs for youth.
“This is a program that hits critical targets, employment, youth development and workforce training,” he said. “We are supporting what Commissioner Smith and Commissioner Cogen are doing for our county.”