Ryan Mitchell is spending this summer at his first job, learning and writing computer code in the renovated basement of a West Baltimore church.
"We have been learning Python and learning how to code networks and debug programs," the 17-year-old said.
Mitchell is one of more than 8,200 youths employed by the city's YouthWorks summer jobs program this year. On Wednesday, public officials and community leaders celebrated the program and recalled their own first summer jobs, many of which were less glamorous than Mitchell's.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, for example, picked up trash and brush in Maryland state parks. She told the crowd of about 100 that the YouthWorks program is essential in building up skills in today's youths in the same way her first gig motivated her to succeed.
"I believe it is our responsibility as the adults and the leaders in our communities to make the path that was paved for us," Rawlings-Blake said. "We have an obligation to pay it forward by creating that path for the next generation."
Jason Perkins-Cohen, director of the Mayor's Office of Employment Development, which runs the YouthWorks program, said it is one of the biggest summer programs in the nation. Students at more than 900 sites across the city work in fields including health care, technology and finance.
Nate Loewentheil, a senior policy adviser with the White House National Economic Council, said other cities could learn from Baltimore's program.
"Too often, Baltimore is in the national news for the wrong reasons," Loewentheil said. "But there's so many amazing things happening in Baltimore that really are modeled around the country."
As officials praised the program, they shared what they did at their first jobs.
Perkins-Cohen cut onions at a restaurant known for its chili. Loewentheil was a waiter at a summer camp.
Donald C. Fry, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee organization, was in charge of managing about a dozen children at his mother's day care center. The Rev. Alvin C. Hathaway Sr., pastor of Union Baptist Church, washed pots at a local coffee spot.
Perkins-Cohen said YouthWorks focuses on jobs that help broaden young people's perspective on potential careers, and also shows them the city has not given up or forgotten about them.
For Mitchell, that has meant exploring his interest in computers in a comfortable, air-conditioned workspace surrounded by whiteboard walls, movable desks and modern computers.
"Their first job they had to do a lot of labor and hard work," Mitchell said of the leaders who spoke. "This is like a cooler environment for us, to get an insight into computers."
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