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Collaboratory Examines Detroit Summer Youth Employment Program

Assistant Professor Trina Shanks embodies the School of Social Work’s commitment to Detroit and to addressing its challenges, including the tens of thousands of young people in Detroit living in poverty. Among Professor Shanks’ endeavors is her involvement in and evaluation of the Detroit Summer Youth Employment Program. 

For three years, public and private community leaders in Detroit have worked together to provide young people, ages 14–24, with work opportunities during summer months and beyond. In the summer of 2008, 2,000 youth were employed using public funds; by taking advantage of increased funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) (the Obama Stimulus Package), 7,000 youth were employed during summer of 2009. That number decreased to 3,000 in summer 2010 due to lack of stimulus funds. 

On February 8, Professor Shanks orchestrated a collaboratory, entitled “Putting Youth to Work,” which brought together stakeholders from the Detroit Summer Youth Employment Program. The collaboratory was a program of the SSW’s new Child Welfare Learning Community.

In addition to Professor Shanks, the participants were Ed Egnatios, MSW, senior program officer, Skillman Foundation, a private foundation focused on children and youth in Southeast Michigan; Geneva Williams, EdD, founding president and CEO, City Connect Detroit; Lena Barclay, workforce initiatives manager from CVS/Caremark, who reflected the employer perspective; and Scott Major, who has been employed in the Summer Youth Employment Program for two summers and provided the youth employee perspective

In her remarks, Professor Shanks contextualized Detroit’s program and its outcomes, both in terms of the crisis of youth unemployment and in the context of two national evaluations of youth employment programs. Detroit’s 2009 outcomes were edifying and gratifying. Ninety-nine percent of employers who completed the exit survey, most of whom were employed at non-profits, said that they would participate in the program again, and 98 percent would encourage organizations similar to theirs to participate in the program. Of the youth who completed the 2009 exit survey, 35 percent used their earnings to help support their families. A little less than half (46 percent) were male, and most (92 percent) were African American, 5 percent being Latino. 

Mr. Egnatios, a University of Michigan graduate, described the Skillman Foundation’s initiative, Good Neighborhoods, to end the cycle of poverty, targeting six Detroit neighborhoods. One of the Skillman Foundation’s primary partners in its Good Neighborhoods work is the University of Michigan School of Social Work’s Technical Assistance Center. In her presentation, Dr. Williams, who spearheaded Detroit’s successful effort to leverage American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds, emphasized the importance of long-term commitment to Detroit’s youth and “scaling up.” Ms. Barkley described CVS’s 10-year commitment to developing and retaining a diverse workforce. CVS is actively involved in the Detroit Summer Youth Employment Program and, in 2009, trained 63 youth as pharmacy technicians, assisting them through the national certification requirements. Finally, Scott Major described the difference that Summer Youth Employment Program has made in his life and his neighborhood. Already committed to his education, he stated that the program made him a better person. These presentations were followed by a lively discussion.

—Kathleen Coulborn Faller is Marion Elizabeth Blue Professor of Social Work.

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