Kamani Larmouth, left, is helped by Marion Highe, right, with the assessment staff in filling out paperwork. YouthWorks is hosting its registration process for the 16,000 young people between ages 14 and 21 who have already signed up for the summer jobs program.
Kamani Larmouth, left, is helped by Marion Highe, right, with the assessment staff in filling out paperwork. YouthWorks is hosting its registration process for the 16,000 young people between ages 14 and 21 who have already signed up for the summer jobs program. (Algerina Perna / Baltimore Sun)

Baltimore’s YouthWorks program — which connects teenagers to summer jobs — is experiencing a boom this year with more than 16,000 young people applying to seek employment.

That’s a 40 percent increase from just two years ago, according to the city.

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“The applications are really high and up,” said Mayor Catherine E. Pugh, who highlighted the growth in summer job applications during her annual state-of-the-city speech this week. “It bodes well for the future of Baltimore.”

Applications have been flooding in since the program began accepting them in January. In the first 24 hours, 2,000 young people had registered. By the end of the first week, there were 5,000 applications.

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The applicants have been arriving at the War Memorial building this week after school to make sure their paperwork is in order and to identify what jobs they are most interested in landing.

“It is booming. Why is it booming? Young people want to work,” said Jason Perkins-Cohen, director of the mayor’s employment development office. “They’re desperate to work.”

Since its inception in the mid-1990s, YouthWorks had typically employed about 5,000 people each summer. But that number jumped after the civil unrest of 2015, which sparked more interest from businesses. The program has served more than 8,000 youths the past two summers.

Pugh and other city leaders are asking more businesses to get involved to help accommodate the surge in demand. Businesses can agree to employ one youth for the summer or donate $1,600 to fund a teen at another organization. The mayor said the city needs about 5,000 more job opportunities to accommodate the surge in applications.

Alicia Wilson, a vice president with the Sagamore Development Co., which is building a massive project in Port Covington, said the firm had agreed to employ 100 young people through the program this summer.

Wilson, a former teen worker herself, said she embarked on her legal career after being inspired by YouthWorks.

“I would not be a lawyer if it were not for this program,” she said. “If we can allow for our young people to have their dreams come true, $1,600 is a small price.”

Last year, it cost about $14 million to pay for the program, Pugh said. The city will need more this year. The jobs are open to people between the ages of 14 and 21. They are placed in more than 900 workplaces across the region, including in city government and at nonprofits.

The jobs typically last about five weeks.

“We need to make sure young people are getting the right kind of job experience that will lead them down the right path,” Pugh said.

At a recent news conference at City Hall about YouthWorks, Devonte Robinson, a junior at Morgan State, said he landed a job at Veolia Energy through the program.

Robinson said he did not see much opportunity as he was growing up in Baltimore until YouthWorks gave him a glimpse of what a professional workplace was like.

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“I experienced a lack of opportunity. A lot of youth don’t have the opportunity to grow and prosper,” he said. “If we are given a shot and given an opportunity, there’s so much we can accomplish.”

Brothers from left, Eric Brown, 14; Jaylan Brown, 15; and Nathan Brown, 16, participate in the YouthWorks program registration process for the 16,000 young people between ages 14 and 21 who have already signed up for the summer jobs program.
Brothers from left, Eric Brown, 14; Jaylan Brown, 15; and Nathan Brown, 16, participate in the YouthWorks program registration process for the 16,000 young people between ages 14 and 21 who have already signed up for the summer jobs program. (Algerina Perna / Baltimore Sun)

Robinson said he picked up strong communication skills on the job.

“Veolia Energy prepared me for my future in construction management,” he said. “I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish that if I wasn’t given that shot.”

William Gladden, who was hired through the YouthWorks program at Merritt Athletic Clubs, said he struggled to find a job before going through the city program.

“I would look for jobs, but nobody would hire me,” Gladden said.

At Merritt, he added, he made sure to show up at least 45 minutes early for work with the hopes of turning the summer job into a full-time gig.

“I worked hard, came everyday on time, and made sure I got everything done,” Gladden said. “I asked them, ‘Would you like to hire me?’ Two weeks later, I was hired.”

Like Robinson, he said the job improved his communication skills.

“I already had manners, but it polished them, made them better,” Gladden said.

Perkins-Cohen said city officials are working hard to promote the program, but he credits its rapid growth to word-of-mouth from previous participants like Gladden.

“Clearly, young people are having positive experiences,” he said.

Employers can find more information about the program at http://youthworks.oedworks.com/

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