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ABCD to offer teenagers more summer jobs

Avery Bleichfeld
ABCD to offer teenagers more summer jobs

At least 40% more young workers will be hired this year through the summer jobs program of Action for Boston Community Development, the local anti-poverty agency known by its acronym, ABCD.

In the past few years, ABCD has offered between 1,000 and 1,200 summer jobs to Boston teens. This summer they are looking to hire 1,700. The program, called SummerWorks, connects 14- to 21-year-olds to summer jobs with nonprofits in neighborhoods and communities across Boston.

“Its importance is really to give youth an opportunity to gain skills, to have their first job, to really be able to reap the positive outcomes of having a job as a teenager,” said Sharon Scott-Chandler, president and CEO of ABCD. “I think all of us have had jobs when we were teens, and we know that your first job really lays the foundation for positive work experience in the future for higher incomes.”

ABCD president Sharon Scott-Chandler greeting parents. PHOTO: COURTESY ABCD

Juan Echevarria-Ruiz, a SummerWorks participant from Dorchester, said he’s looking to become a teacher, in part because of his time working in child care jobs with the program. He had wanted to be a teacher before joining the program but didn’t seriously consider it.

“I just wanted to work like a minimum-wage job, but when I began working in SummerWorks, that began to open my mind more to going to college and getting help,” Echevarria-Ruiz said.

The expansion comes as part of a broader move from the city to increase summer employment for young people. In March, the city announced funding to support 7,000 jobs with the city and partner organizations, including through ABCD’s program.

As ABCD looks to include more teens and expand the program, they’re also looking to find more partner work sites. Scott-Chandler said SummerWorks normally engages with about 70 partners, but is looking to double or triple that number.

That need for growth in partners is, in part, a product of the pandemic, as employers adjust back to hiring more people for in-person work.

“I think certainly since the pandemic, we’ve seen that organizations don’t necessarily have the capacity to handle as many youth as they did pre-pandemic, and that’s for a lot of reasons; a lot of it is health and safety,” Scott-Chandler said.

She said last year’s program was the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic that teens could go back to work at early childhood programs.

The expansion of the program comes after researchers looked at SummerWorks and its longer-term effects on teens.

Alicia Modestino, a Northeastern University professor and the lead author of a study published in January, previously worked as an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. While there, she noticed a decline in the percentage of young people with summer jobs. She identified SummerWorks as one of the interventions being used to counteract that trend.

“Having a summer job fills in the gaps for youth across a variety of different outcomes,” Modestino said. “For youth who had been previously involved with the criminal justice system, it provides them with a way to be able to get on a different path …. For young people that maybe have lagged behind in school in the past, it shows them a career path and increases their academic aspirations.”

ABCD recruiters offering job counseling. PHOTO: COURTESY ABCD

In her research, Modestino and her team found participants in the program were more likely to graduate high school, had reduced absences and, to a smaller degree, had higher GPAs.

Scott-Chandler highlighted the positive outcomes found in the study, and said she sees other less tangible benefits to participation as well.

“There’s a lot of both tangible and intangible [benefits of the program]. Out of this program, folks develop relationships with other youth because they’re in cohorts and working. They develop relationships with adults that they may not have [had], and it’s in a work setting,” Scott-Chandler said. “This is about giving young people an opportunity.”

Modestino said her research has shown participants often use their wages to help support their household.

“Our research shows that about half of the youth in [SummerWorks] are using their summer wages to pay some kind of household bill,” Modestino said. “They’re helping pay rent, they’re helping with utilities, they’re helping with groceries, they’re helping pay their own cellphone bill.”

Alia Pacombe, director of community engagement at Urban Edge, one of the nonprofits hiring through SummerWorks, said the program helps ensure teens have a safe place to go throughout the summer as well as a place to learn skills and interact with other young people.

“It’s important for the [Urban Edge board of directors] and for us to make sure these young people have a safe place to go throughout the summer, they’re earning income while they’re in the safe environment, and just to keep them busy as well,” Pacombe said.

Applications for the program are open now and are being considered on a rolling basis. Scott-Chandler said ABCD is trying to get teens into the program as soon as possible to guarantee them spots and so they can choose where they want to work.

The program will run between June 26 and Aug. 25, with a mix of hours on the job and in workshops teaching a curriculum focused on skills like financial literacy and conflict resolution.

Echevarria-Ruiz said after spending time in the SummerWorks program, he has grown his experience and skills, and he recommends others do the same.

“It doesn’t matter what language you speak or what age you are, just try and go, and they can help you to begin the future you want to be,” he said.