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Milwaukee Youth Jobs Program Aims to Reduce Violence

Marti Mikkelson
DeShawn Ewing supervises while young men write down their goals.

Activities are underway around town to keep students busy and safe during summer vacation. One new program for young men considered at-risk is called Youth Works Milwaukee. 

The teens practice job skills and then head off to work.

DeShawn Ewing is standing at the front of the room at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee, north of downtown. He knows some of the 30 young men seated at tables in front of him may be mourning the loss of a friend or relative.

The year has been a violent one in the city. Just this summer, gunshots have killed several teenagers.

“There’s a lot of potential that’s not met because it’s six feet underground right now. All we can do is talk about what could have been, what they hoped for, how wonderful they were and what potential they had. What we’re doing today is talking about the potential that is still there and that will be utilized because you guys are going to be around a long time, right?” Ewing asks.

The group meets every Monday for job training instructions. They include lessons on how to dress appropriately and how to interview for a job.

Ewing’s goal today is to teach the teens how to communicate effectively in the workplace with supervisors and co-workers. First, he drills the young men on the definition of communication.  Next, Ewing tells the participants to write down their goals and share them. Leonte Hicks speaks up.

“So, the first goal is to help people get off of drugs and my second one is to help people be part of the Hunger Task Force so I can help the homeless,” Hicks says.

Another young man taking part is Maurice Norman. He’s 18 and will be a senior in fall at James Madison High School. Norman says there’s constant pressure to get into trouble, and he knows the consequences.

“You might be in jail, you might be dead. You don’t want to put that much guilt or hurt on your family when you could have been doing good. You could have been out there looking for a job instead of running the streets all night,” Norman says.

Norman says the program here at the Boys & Girls Clubs helps him focus on school and work. In addition to the Monday classes, Youth Works sends the young men to job sites the other four days of the work week. Anthony Robinson says he’s already landed a couple jobs.

“First I was working at LaFollette. Then I had an interview at the Urban Ecology Center. I got chosen and I was happy about that. I had two jobs in a good minute. I feel good about that,” Robinson says.

Robinson says he’s been planting at the Urban Ecology Center and showing kids around when they come in for field trips. He says the job lets him contribute to his family’s income and he hopes it all becomes permanent. Program Manager Deonte Lewis believes there’s a direct correlation between working and staying out of trouble.

“If you have an idle mind, it’s a ticking time bomb. I truly believe that. But, having these kids here every Monday, plus they’re working four days a week. They’re doing something constructive. And, that’s really taking them off the streets and putting them somewhere where they’re able to function and grow,” Lewis says.

Lewis says the pilot program will last for one year; then it will be evaluated for further funding. The program launched in June.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.
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