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At the job fair, Herbert Robinson, 19, lined up an job interview for Saturday. “I’m really excited,” he said. “I’d love to be able to support myself and help my Mom out. Who doesn’t want that?” | Maudlyne Ihejirika/Sun-Times

Chicago youths bring hopes, dreams to national job fair

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SHARE Chicago youths bring hopes, dreams to national job fair

Herbert Robinson packed his resume and his dreams and headed for McCormick Place.

That’s where the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative — a national effort to find jobs for 100,000 youths nationwide by 2018 — launched in Chicago on Thursday.

The 19-year-old Near West Side resident has been unsuccessful in his job hunt since he graduated from Marshall High School earlier this year.

“It’s been impossible to find a steady job,” he said. “I’ve just been focusing on my music and my poetry. I’ve always loved poetry, and it’s my way of escaping my problems. But it’s been super hard.”

When he heard about the event — touted as the largest youth jobs initiative — driven by a coalition of major corporations, he hurried to register. He got a chance to interview with a bunch of companies. He got a lot of “No’s.” But he also left with a possible “Yes.”

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Dimikka Craig, 19, came to Thursday’s event with high hopes. “I filled out a lot of applications, and hopefully this time I’ll get some phone calls,” she said. | Maudlyne Ihejirika/Sun-Times

“I’m really into fashion, and there’s a company, LifeWear in Japan, that’s opening a store here, and they said they want me to come for an interview Saturday,” he said. “I’m really excited. I’d love to be able to support myself and help my Mom out. Who doesn’t want that?”

Dimikka Craig, also 19, of Englewood, has been working for temp agencies since she got her associate’s degree in 2014. She hasn’t found a steady job, but she too came to Thursday’s event with high hopes.

“It was a good experience,” she said at the end of the day. “It would have been even better if I’d been offered a job on the spot, but that’s OK. I filled out a lot of applications, and hopefully this time I’ll get some phone calls.”

Like Robinson and Craig, the youths who attended got skills training, professional development, resume help and mentoring from dozens of Chicago groups that work on the coinciding issues of violence and lack of jobs for youths.

Corporations including Starbucks, CVS, Walgreens, Hilton, Hyatt, JP Morgan Chase, Prudential, Macy’s, JCPenney, Target and Wal-Mart were committed to hiring youths for full-time, entry-level jobs and pairing the new employees with mentors.

Experts have found that anti-violence initiatives that combine jobs, therapy and mentoring can have a significant effect on countering youth violence.

The youths targeted by the initiative are not in school and not employed. They are described as “opportunities” youth. And some had had minor run-ins with the law — an issue more and more companies like Starbucks are no longer considering hindrances to employment. Nationally, these youths number 5.3 million, according to the Initiative. In Chicago, there are 200,000.

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