Local leaders, including Lt. Governor Boyd Rutherford, offered encouragement and advice to Baltimore City students Monday morning at the kickoff event for the YouthWorks summer employment program.
Secretary of the Maryland Department of Human Resources Sam Malhotra told more than 20 YouthWorks participants to consider their summer jobs an "an investment in yourself."
"You can either be on the court or you can be on the sidelines watching others play. And the choice is yours," he said. "This program is going to give you that opportunity to get into the game of life."
Students on Monday started their second of five weeks in the YouthWorks program, an job placement initiative that gives students ages 14 to 21 summer work experience at government agencies, nonprofits and other businesses. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced on June 24 that all 8,000 youths who applied for the program would be placed in a position. Previously, YouthWorks and its private sector component Hire One Youth could only accommodate 5,000 applicants, but following riots in late April, the One Baltimore initiative found job placements and donations to enable another 3,000 to work this summer.
Lillian Lowery, state superintendent of schools, said she saw YouthWorks' potential impact when she visited Frederick Douglass High School in West Baltimore after the rioting overwhelmed the surrounding neighborhood this spring.
"One of things that we heard from students loud and clear was that, 'We don't know what our options are,'" she said, adding that YouthWorks is meant to provide direction for such students.
C. Gail Bassette, secretary of the Department of General Services, told students their summer jobs could lay a foundation for an entire career.
"You will leave with skills that you will take to the next job, but more importantly, your whole life," she said.
Rutherford spoke about his first job as a dishwasher and said jobs like that are an important introduction to the workforce.
"What it instills in a young person is work ethic, get to work on time... completing assignments, following orders," he said.
YouthWorks provides employment opportunities to young people who have worked previously and to those who have never held a job.
Maurice Harrington, 18, is working at the Department of Education this summer and said it is his first office job, having previously worked in a factory.
"It's a big setting change," he said. "I have to think more rather than just take the order."
Another YouthWorks participant, Diana Smith, 17, said she is helping the Department of Education with a food service training program.
"They're teaching me how the government goes," said Smith. "I'm learning a lot."