By Maria Corpus
A new initiative will seek to address city violence by linking at-risk youth with employment opportunities and support, thanks to Potawatomi Hotel & Casino’s renamed charity program, Heart of Canal Street.
Youth Works MKE is a new, pilot program by the Milwaukee Area Workforce Investment Board that will provide the subsidized jobs and mentoring services to youth.
The board and its program are the casino’s “Charity of Choice” and partnership for this year.
“After a lot of thoughtful consideration, we selected a program for this inaugural year that we think addresses one of the most critical issues facing the city: violence in the inner city,” said Tom Malloy, assistant general manager and chief marketing officer of Potawatomi Hotel & Casino.
The casino unveiled the renamed charity and this year’s partnership on Tuesday evening at the PHC Classic presented by the Forest County Potawatomi, which kicked off this week at the Brown Deer Park Golf Course.
Formerly known as Miracle on Canal Street, Heart of Canal Street will donate the first $100,000 that is raised this year to Youth Works MKE.
The remaining funds that are raised will be split equally among 30 area charities, according to Potawatomi Spokeswoman Renee Kirnberger.
Youth Works MKE is a program modeled after Chicago’s One Summer Plus, which provides part-time summer jobs and other programming to youth.
The Chicago-based program has showed a 51-percent reduction in violent-crime arrests among program participants, according to the University of Chicago Crime Lab.
“We’re very inspired and encouraged by the results we’ve heard about out of the One Summer Plus program in Chicago,” Kirnberger said.
“We’re excited to make changes and amplify the program in Milwaukee to help youth in the central city.”
Earl Buford, president and CEO of the Milwaukee Area Workforce Investment Board, noted he’s thankful to be the casino’s first “Charity of Choice.”
He said he’s also excited to expand the One Summer Plus model in Milwaukee.
“We will be taking that model one step beyond just summer employment and providing year-long support for this investment, giving young people in this community social and emotional support, one-to-one mentoring, along with essential workforce skills,” Buford said at the event.
The program is also similar to Mayor Tom Barrett’s Earn and Learn program, which also connects teens to employment opportunities.
At the event, Barrett addressed this summer’s spike in violence and homicides.
“What’s happening in our city and society when these teenagers are losing their lives or are seriously wounded?” said Barrett.
For Barrett, linking teens to jobs is an opportunity that can improve conditions in the city and help reduce violence.
“There are kids in our community who don’t have that chance [of a job], and we have to break that cycle and find ways [for youth to] understand that we believe in them,” said Barrett. “We have to make sure that these kids have a chance.
And if we don’t do that, it’s going to cost all of us.” Potawatomi Hotel & Casino will choose a different organization to partner with each year, as part of its new structure for Heart of Canal Street.
The charity program raises about $1 million a year in funds through bingo sessions, beverage specials, special poker tournaments and more.
Since 1994, Potawatomi’s charity program has raised more than $14.6 million for area organizations.