Summer isn’t your typical celebration of freedom when you’re a Chicago teen living on the south side. The city becomes more violent. Your friends get bored and restless. There isn’t much to do, and you have to worry about staying safe more than you think about having fun.
Jada Johnson is a 17-year-old, soon-to-be high school senior, and last summer she took a different approach to time off school: she signed up for Catholic Charities Summer Jobs program, held in partnership with the City of Chicago’s “One Summer Chicago” program.
Jada heard about the program through her aunt, who works in one of Catholic Charities food centers for women and children. Through the Summer Jobs program, Jada learned how to code and build phone apps.
“It gave me something creative to do over the summer,” Jada said. “It expanded my interest in technology and it took me downtown, to a part of Chicago I had never been to before.”
Jada also learned the importance of teamwork through the program.
“You can’t do it alone,” she said. “It takes everyone’s effort. I feel like I’m better prepared for a job now.”
The more than 1,500 youth who participate in the program work up to 20 hours a week from late June through early August and are paid $8.25 an hour. Each youth is matched with a job catered to their interests based on a questionnaire they fill out during registration.
Catholic Charities has partnered with the City to help facilitate the program for seven years.
“The primary goal is to really keep youth engaged in positive and safe activities and off the streets,” said Gina Cleggs, Catholic Charities Associate Vice President of Community Development & Outreach Services. “The City knows that once a youth comes to us through this program, we’re going to provide them with the best experience possible.”
“People watch the news and see the violence that’s happening, but they don’t get a chance to see the positive,” Cleggs said. “We have 400 kids who are motivated to learn and work and get good grades and go to college. Not every kid is out there hanging out on the corner and this program reinforces that, for us and for them.”