CHA expands summer youth job program

Dwain Turner, 16, says he would be happy to sell merchandise, move boxes, do construction or answer phones.

Turner, who has dealt drugs in the past and will soon be a father, says a job would be "something to keep me from … " and gestured to the street outside Wallace Catfish Corner, a soul food restaurant at California Avenue and Madison Street.

The Chicago Housing Authority has expanded its summer jobs program this year in hopes of reaching more teens like Turner. The program now offers 370 jobs. Most provide a  $400 stipend for 14- and 15-year-olds. Older teens can apply for 40 internships that pay $7.75 an hour.

Previously the program employed about 200 kids. There have always been more interested teenagers than available jobs, says Crystal Palmer, president of Henry Horner Homes' Local Advisory Council.

Despite the expanded capacity, changes to the program have upset some local council presidents. They say received scant warning of pending change, which diminished their control over the types of jobs available.

"They don't ask us," said Deverra Beverly, president of the local council at ABLA.

Since 2003 the CHA has partnered with the Chicago nonprofit After School Matters, which runs year round job training for teenagers in the fields of science, technology, communication, the arts and sports. Each CHA development had 10 jobs, and After School Matters staff worked with local council presidents to tailor a program to that development.

For example, last year at Henry Horner Homes, 14- and 15-year-olds could paint a mural or use video cameras to record oral histories, Palmer says.

This year there will be 14 or 15 programs instead of one for each of the CHA's 20 developments, says Andy Teitelman, the agency's deputy managing director of resident services. Half are located at CHA developments; the other half are run in community centers around the city.

Staff from After School Matters -- not the local council presidents --  designed the job programs, though the nonprofit says it considered council input from previous years.

At ABLA, that's causing concern. The $1.6 billion Plan for Transformation is changing ABLA into a mixed-income community, a neighborhood with homes equally divided between public, affordable and market-rate housing. Because of those changes, Beverly had wanted to try something new this year.

As new people move in, the neighborhood is moving from predominantly black to more racially and ethnically diverse. Beverly wanted to run a program to teach teenagers to live with white, Latino, Asian and Middle Eastern families.

"We need to let them know we can all live together," she says. "They don't know that."

Palmer says the local council presidents learned of the change in early June when they received a letter telling them to select 12 teenagers from a list provided by After School Matters.

Teitelman says local council members were invited to meetings with CHA officials to discuss the changes.

"Change is not easy, but we're excited that there's greater opportunity," he says. "In a perfect world, we would have communicated about it much earlier, but we just didn't have it worked out with After School Matters."