A targeted jobs program with a proven track record for keeping at-risk youth safe from summer violence is in line for a dramatic expansion, thanks to a $10 million gift from a former NBA great.
Hall-of-Famer Earvin “Magic” Johnson, along with Mark and Kimbra Walter, are partners in Inner City Youth Empowerment LLC.
Their two-year, $10 million gift to the city will triple the size of the program known as “One Summer Chicago Plus” — and provide 5,000 summer jobs for young people at risk of being exposed to violence. The city will contribute $6 million during the same period.
One Summer Chicago Plus is a costly but effective summer jobs program whose 16- to 19-year-old participants are drawn from high schools in high-crime areas.
To qualify for the 25-hour-a-week summer jobs — as well as a mentor, cognitive behavioral therapy and social-skills building — students must first have missed six to eight weeks of high school or been directly involved in the juvenile justice system.
The individual attention doesn’t come cheap. It costs roughly $2,900 per student, nearly triple the $1,000 cost of a traditional summer job.
But the laserlike focus has a proven success rate.
In a recent study, an assistant professor of criminology at the University of Pennsylvania found that disadvantaged youth accepted into the program committed nearly half as many violent crimes as those who applied but didn’t get into the program. Those statistics held true 16 months after the two-month jobs program ended, researcher Sara Heller found.
The encouraging results were apparently enough to persuade Johnson, the former Los Angeles Lakers great now known for his business and philanthropic investments in inner-city neighborhoods, to make a big investment in Chicago’s at-risk youth.
“We are proud to partner on an initiative that has proven to change the trajectory of at-risk kids’ lives,” Johnson was quoted as saying in a press release.
“Providing disadvantaged kids with alternatives is a step in the right direction toward helping them reach their full potential and curb violence in our neighborhoods.”
Johnson’s business partner, Mark Walter, said he’s proud to work with the mayor on a program with “demonstrable, proven” results.
“As a result of the research findings, we felt compelled to help bring this opportunity to a greater number of kids who can benefit. The impact on these young people is both real and tangible,” Walter was quoted as saying.
Last year, One Summer Chicago Plus hired and mentored 1,000 at-risk youth. This summer, it’ll be 2,000. The following year, it’ll be up to 3,000.
Some of the private dollars will be used to train and support “community partners” and 500 mentors to make certain the dramatic expansion does not “compromise quality.”
Every adult hired to work with disadvantaged youth must complete a 30-hour “civic leadership curriculum” that includes “work-readiness and non-cognitive skills,” financial education, safety and conflict resolution and trauma-informed practice.”
Mayor Rahm Emanuel has bemoaned the federal government’s steady withdrawal from the business of providing summer jobs. He praised Johnson for helping Chicago fill the gap for young people who “need it most.”
“The city of Chicago, with the support of our community and business partners, remains committed to reducing violence in our city. Through this generous grant, more youth will stay safe, active and engaged this summer while getting the skills and on-the-job training necessary for a bright future,” the mayor was quoted as saying.