- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 6, 2009

CITIZEN JOURNALISM:

D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty took a lot of heat last year for his summer youth-employment program, which had problems with mismanagement, contracts and technology training. The program also had a budget overrun of $30 million.

Nearly 24,000 youths have registered for this year, and opportunities include working in the White House, the mayor said at a May 1 news conference. The program is scheduled to begin June 18 and end Aug. 21. Full-time and part-time jobs are available.

The mayor also said he intended to request an additional $24 million from the D.C. Council to operate the program, because the $21 million already budgeted would pay for about 15,000 applicants.

“Given the current economic conditions,” said Mr. Fenty, a Democrat, “we want to ensure our youth are given the optimal advantage to learn and earn this summer.”

Last year, the summer-jobs program put more than 21,000 young people to work.

Many young people face a bleak future because of poverty, violence, teen pregnancy and dropout rates, community leaders said.

The nine-week program will help reduce youth crime, said Ronald Moten, co-founder and chief operating officer of the community-based organization called Peaceoholics.

“It’s better for the mayor to try and get every youth a job,” Mr. Moten said. “If those youth weren’t working, they would be out committing crimes. They learn skills on the job. Sometimes they don’t. Still, giving them the money keeps them off the street.”

Rahim Jenkins of the Righteous Men’s Commission, which seeks to reduce gun violence, said the jobs program should not throw money at youths. He said youths need job skills.

“I would like to see the youth get involved in a substantive kind of work experience,” Mr. Jenkins said. “The more you engage young people, the less time they will have to get involved in counterproductive activities.”

The economic downturn is fueling a rise in crime, warned Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. at the 2009 National Crime Victims Rights Week awards ceremony April 24.

“Times are tough, and there’s plenty of evidence that the downturn in the economy is taking a toll in terms of public safety,” Mr. Holder said. “We hear from police chiefs from around the country that crime is on the rise even as their departments face budget cuts.”

For Kenneth Barnes, who received the National Crime Victim Service Award for his work with Reaching Out to Others Together (ROOT Inc.) to end gun violence, concerns include assailants who were frustrated about family finances and job loss.

“Instances like that only suggest there will be more gun violence,” said Mr. Barnes, who lost his son to gun violence by an ex-offender during a robbery. “People need to survive. Crime will be felt not just in urban areas, but in suburban communities as well.”

Said Joseph P. Walsh Jr., acting director of the D.C. Department of Employment Services: “We understand that in this current economic climate, the need for extra income is critical for many young people and their families.”

• Joseph Young is a freelance journalist and photographer living in Washington.

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