CROSSwalk to Work: Summer Jobs Provide Lasting Positive Effects for Teens

April 22, 2015

By The Rev. Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows

For two years the leaders of the diocese’s CROSSwalk to Work initiative, which helps to create summer employment for economically disadvantaged teenagers, have been telling people that nothing stops a bullet like a job.  The good news is that a recent study that was conducted right here in Chicago and published in Science magazine, proves that we’ve been right about that. The bad news is that youth summer employment is near 60-year lows.

And that’s where you come in.  If you can provide or identify an internship opportunity for a young person from an at-risk neighborhood, we would love to hear about it. Or, if you can help to fund a full-time or part-time internship, we’d love to hear about that, too, because with money in hand, we can create the opening.

According to the Science magazine study, teenagers who took part in a summer jobs program were 43 percent less likely to be arrested for a violent crime over a 16 month period that extended well after the job had lapsed, than those in a control group. As Emily Badger wrote in The Washington Post: “That number … implies that a relatively short (and inexpensive) intervention like an eight-week summer jobs program can have a lasting effect on teenage behavior.”

These findings are reinforced by an extensive report recently released by Rep. Robin Kelly, whose district includes much of the southeastern corner of the diocese, that found that “focused prevention, which involves the strategic use of resources to prevent youth gun violence from happening” was far more effective than “addressing the problem after the fact.”

With these ringing endorsements of our philosophy in hand, we think it’s time to kick CROSSwalk to Work into a higher gear. When we got the program started in the summer of 2013, we were able to provide jobs for two high school students. Last summer, we provided 13 jobs. This summer we’d like to double that number.

Our partner in this endeavor is Youth Guidance, whose pioneering work in preparing young people from economically disadvantaged communities to succeed in school and in the workforce has won it national acclaim. We couldn’t do this without them. We search out the opportunities and, where needed, the funding, and they provide job -readiness programs and mentoring.

The jobs we are looking for will give our interns the feeling of contributing to the effectiveness of an organization, whether it is a food bank, a pre-school, an office, a library or, say, an Episcopal congregation.  Recently, we’ve had two young women work at a pre-school summer camp and vacation Bible school program on the north shore and interns working in  a library and an early childhood development center.  We’ve also had two terrific interns at St. James Commons: Jorge Perez, who is on sabbatical for the high school baseball season, and LaQueena Walker, who will graduate in June and attend Western Illinois University in Macomb in the fall.

It is a great blessing to watch these young people excel, and one in which I hope you would like to share.  It costs about $3,500 to employ an intern for 8 weeks at 40 hours per week.  A 20-hour per week internship costs half as much. These are relatively modest amounts for some individuals, and for many congregations.

We’ve got evidence that nothing stops a bullet like job. Let’s join together and stop some bullets. If you can provide either internships or financial support, please contact me.