By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
Takeya Swope will be entering her sophomore year of high school come this fall. Before school starts back up, she’s working 20 hours a week through the City of Milwaukee’s Earn & Learn Program.
The Earn & Learn Program is an employment initiative for Milwaukee’s youth. Mayor Tom Barrett was one of the leaders behind the program, which was designed to provide employment opportunities for the youth over the summer.
According to the Earn & Learn website, when Barrett took office in 2004, there were several violent incidents involving Milwaukee teens. By 2005, Barrett had established the Earn & Learn program, which connected teens to local businesses, nonprofits, community and faith-based organizations.
Currently, there are three programs under Earn & Learn: Community Work Experience for youth ages 14-24, Private Sector Job Connection for ages 18+ and the Summer Youth Internship Program for ages 16-19.
Earlier this week, the 2019 Earn & Learn program officially started. To kick off the day, Barrett addressed the teen workers at the United Community Center, 1028 S. 9th St. and the WestCare Harambee Community Center, 335 W. Wright St.
Barrett explained to the teens, that when he was young, teen employment programs didn’t exist. As a result, Barrett said he often got into trouble. These memories are part of the reason Barrett wanted to create the Earn & Learn program.
“I vowed when I was in a position to do something about it, I would make sure young people had access to summer jobs,” Barrett said.
This summer, youth throughout Milwaukee are working at 75 different community-based sites.
Swope, who works at the WestCare center, said that the program is a way to earn easy money and give back to the community. This year, the teens make $7.75, and a typical work day goes from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. with Fridays off.
Barrett said that the program is designed to help young people transition from adolescence to adulthood.
“It is designed to give you a quality summer work experience, where you’ll learn some new skills, along with a paycheck,” he said.
Each job site consists of a variety of activities where the youth can acquire new skills and interact with the community. Swope said her group will help out with food drives, hand out gun locks, to combat gun violence, give back to the homeless and more.
A first job is a big accomplishment, said Barrett, and it’s an unforgettable experience.
“A summer job is a great way to spend the summer,” he said. “You’ll gain knowledge, learn some essential workplace skills and how to handle challenges.”
To learn more about the Earn & Learn program and for applications go to https://city.milwaukee.gov/EarnandLearn.