Lake County teens learn about jobs, on the job
As part of Lake County’s youth employment program, Carol Ibarra (left) and Eddie Little did clerical work last summer for Bennu Legal Services in Lake Bluff. The program is gearing up for summer 2013. | Photo courtesy of Jennifer Everett
Updated: April 29, 2013 10:00AM
WAUKEGAN — Lake County is investing in its impoverished communities by maintaining a youth employment program even after all federal funding dried up.
A raffle in February selected 150 teens from low-income families to work part-time this summer at among 35 municipal or nonprofit organizations throughout the county.
The students are ages 14 to 18 and will earn $8.25 per hour for six weeks. The program focuses on teaching kids about work ethics, how to behave appropriately at work and how to interact with coworkers.
“This also provides the kids with references for future jobs and a good start to their resumes,” said Jennifer Everett, the program’s manager. “We try to mentor the kids on how to spend their money too.”
To qualify for the program, Everett said a teen from a family of four cannot have a household income greater than $26,000 annually. Furthermore, Everett said students with special needs are also included regardless of the income requirement.
Lake County pays all the wages and hires two full-time temporary employees with teaching backgrounds to routinely visit the young workers at 35 sites; They help supervisors and workers set and meet goals together, as well as resolve minor conflicts with common issues like using cell phones on the job or attendance.
Work sites include schools, park districts, villages, libraries, townships, nonprofit organizations and Lake County itself. At these sites, the teens will do maintenance work, clerical duties, move furniture or shelve books for the summer.
“There was a time in the ’80s and ’90s when the federal government provided a lot of funding for these kinds of programs but it stopped in 1999,” Everett said. “Lake County was the only county in Illinois that provided a line item to keep this program.”
Program organizers each year encourage school and community groups to send teens to the county’s website to sign up. Approximately 60 percent of the youth workers are black, while 20 percent are Hispanic, Everett said.
Teens are placed at each work site based poverty levels in that area, Everett said. The Village of Mundelein is one of the work sites. Four youth workers who live in town will be placed in the public works department. Everett said Mundelein was one location she wanted to regain because of its fluctuating demographics.
Mundelein stopped participating for several years due to insurance liabilities, Village Administrator John Lobaito said, but this summer will be the village’s second consecutive summer back in the program. Lobaito said a first-day orientation that trains the workers on how to use minor equipment now alleviates insurance concerns.
Furthermore, Lobaito said the youth workers will do much lighter tasks — such as sweep grass clippings, relocate non-machine items, and unravel hoses.
“We’re not filling jobs with temp workers but if these kids can learn some responsibilities while helping our guys move faster, then we’re all for it,” Lobaito said.
Cook Memorial Library, in Libertyville and Vernon Hills, is not participating in 2013 but library Director Stephen Kershner said it has in the past and probably will rejoin in future years. Currently, instead, both of Cook’s libraries host student workers from Special Education District of Lake County.
But other local towns with work sites include Lake Forest, Highland Park, Grayslake, Gurnee and Waukegan.
Teaching impoverished kids is important now more than ever, Everett said, because a poor economy is pushing everyone down a level. She added that the unemployment rate of people ages 16 to 24, of all ethnicities and social classes throughout the state, is at 30 percent.
“What we’ve found is in the past if you were 16 or 17 and wanted a job, you could go to the mall and if you were determined you could get a job,” Everett said. “Now, we’re seeing a lot more adults taking those jobs and the high school and college students are really struggling.”