Blue Ribbon Commission celebrates its successes with Wilmington’s youth and makes plans for the coming year

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Executive Director Jana Jones Halls and Scott Levine from EDSI.

WILMINGTON — After successfully guiding thirty Wilmington youth into the job market, the organization dedicated to preventing youth violence in the city is looking forward to another successful year.

The Blue Ribbon Commission on the Prevention of Youth Violence (BRC) held an open house Wednesday, sharing its programs with the public and outlining its plans for 2017. (See a slideshow below).

The BRC, which focuses its efforts on the Northside area of downtown, presented an overview of their services and successes. Board member Rick Houston said the program, which is modeled after the Harlem’s Children Zone, was based on the crucial distinction between working in a community and working to help a community help itself.

To that end, BRC’s partnerships have involved community work to revitalize the neighborhood, including the adoption of the Portia Hines Park, the opening of the Hemenway Community Center and the re-opening of the DC Virgo school as a preparatory academy.

But even among these victories, Communications Director Paige Blair said: “What I’m most proud of is the summer employment program.”

Executive Director Jana Jones Halls spoke about the program’s Summer 2016 pilot, along with the BRC’s other programs. She echoed Houston on the importance of working from within the community.

“Do with, not for,” Jones Halls said.

Jones Halls was joined by Scott Levine, of Educational Data Systems Inc., a workforce management group, in describing how BRC matched 30 students with 15 local workplaces, both businesses and government offices.

After a week-long “Job Skills Bootcamp,” the students went out into these real workplaces. BRC and EDSI coordinated local and federal grants to pay each student a realistic salary, while the workplaces volunteered on-site job training.

“We didn’t just tell them, ‘good luck,’ and send them out there. Students worked Monday through Thursday, and spent Friday with job coaches reviewing their experiences.” — Jana Jones Halls

Jones Halls emphasized that BRC had put a lot of effort into bracketing the workplace experience with education.

“We didn’t just tell them, ‘good luck,’ and send them out there,” she said. “Students worked Monday through Thursday, and spent Friday with job coaches reviewing their experiences.”

Jones Hall and Levine both had stories about students who, upon receiving their first paycheck, were first exuberant and then — after discovering their wages had been taxed — distressed. This was just one reason BRC works with local Wells Fargo financial advisers to help student grasp the complexities of adult finances.

Jones Halls and Levine also discussed workplace quality.

“We didn’t want to just send them to McDonalds,” Jones Halls said. “We know they can do that on their own.”

Jones Halls said BRC selected local workplaces that students might not have the opportunity to work otherwise, and where they could learn skills that could carry them into full-time employment (four students were, in fact, offered long-term employment after the program ended).

Levine said of the placement, “we want the students to be getting transferable jobs skill, building their resume. We’re not a temp agency.”

Jones Hall and Levine were most enthusiastic about the 12 students who returned from the pilot program to serve as both youth leaders and as a focus group for the second year. Jones Hall says she hopes to expand the program to 45 students for the summer of 2017.

Local businesses and government offices interested in working with BRC for the 2017 Summer Employment Program should visit the BRC contact page here. More information about the program, including the workplaces that participated in 2016 program, is available here.

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