By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
Although the pandemic put a stop to Milwaukee’s typical summer programming and events, one program found a way to carry on. The Earn & Learn program, a City of Milwaukee initiative that give youth employment for the summer, persisted on despite the challenges.
Mayor Tom Barrett and Employ Milwaukee held a press conference to highlight the work and dedication seen by this year’s Earn & Learn participants.
This year did not go as planned, Barrett said, during his opening remarks. He noted that at the end of 2019, he had high hopes and anticipation for the year to come but that the pandemic has really strained the city.
It was questionable if the program could even happen this summer, but it did, Barrett said.
“The Earn & Learn program is so near and dear to my heart because I think it’s at the essence of what we’re all about and that is creating opportunities for our young people,” he said. “We’re here today because I’m pleased, we’ve been able to invest in our youth and our neighborhoods this summer.”
Despite the challenges posed by COVID-19, 40 organizations and over 400 young people were able to participate in the program, he said. Some of the organizations went virtual and utilized technology to teach workplace skills, others were held in-person and some took a hybrid approach.
“Workforce development is a key factor in building strong neighborhoods,” Barrett said.
Barrett added that the youth work in communitybased organizations that are housed in the neighborhoods where the youth live. This gives them an opportunity to strengthen their relationships with residents and build a stronger community.
The young people gain workplace skills that prepare them to join the workforce, he said.
Toni White, director of programs for Employ Milwaukee, thanked the community-based partners who helped make the program doable. There were cities across the country who were unable to do their youth employment program and it was exciting that it was able to happen in Milwaukee, she said.
White explained that when the program transitioned from in-person to virtual, it was the community- based partners who spread the word to the youth. She added that they had a week to get everything ready.
“I think that we came out with some great ideas and we’ll assess and evaluate and figure out how we can do more next summer,” White said. “2020 was a little different but different doesn’t mean bad.”
Employ Milwaukee and its partners were able to get innovative and reinvent and invent processes, she said.
“I’m really excited that were able to fulfill jobs for kids this summer,” she said.
Many of the youth will be picking up their final check on Saturday, Aug. 15. Safety precautions will be in place, but they will be celebrated for their work, White said.
Matthew Rohrer, the youth programs manager at All Hands Boatworks, an Earn & Learn partner, also spoke during the press conference. He said that the youth interns helped fix old row boats that community members could then take out for free. All Hands Boatworks focused not only on workplace skills but STEM skills as well.
Rohrer introduced Jalen, one of the youth interns at All Hands Boatworks.
“Jalen challenged me from the beginning to help him grow” Rohrer said, adding that he asked tough questions but stood out as a leader.
Jalen said he enjoyed learning new things and being with new people. After being asked by the mayor, Jalen added that thanks to the skills he gained on the job, he would get into a boat he built.
To learn more about Milwaukee’s Earn & Learn program, visit city.milwaukee.gov/earnandlearn.