Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said Tuesday that he gets “a little emotional” when he talks about the city’s summer employment program for teenagers and young adults.
“Because when we came into office, we had less than 300 kids involved in this program, and we made a commitment that we were going to double that, and we did in the first year,” Peduto said. “But what broke my heart is we had 2,000 kids who said I want an opportunity to do this. I want an opportunity to find what my career path is and I want that opportunity make a resume builder. For every kid we were saying yes to, we were saying no to two.”
This summer, the Learn and Earn Summer Youth Employment initiative placed more than 2,000 economically disadvantaged teens and young adults, aged 14-21, in paid internships and jobs at businesses and non-profits throughout the city.
The expansion of the program is due in part to a new collaboration with the Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board, as well as ramped up support from local businesses and foundations.
Anunnaqi Withrow-Davis, who graduated from Taylor Allderdice High School and will head to Duquesne University to study journalism in the fall, is participating in the program for the second year.
“I became involved with Learn and Earn because I was tired of working jobs that didn’t benefit my future,” he said. “Learn and Earn offered positions with many prestigious organizations, and I just took the opportunity and ran with it.”
Last year, Withrow-Davis interned with the Pittsburgh Penguins. This year he’s working at the Community College of Allegheny County.
It was at CCAC that Peduto met with teenagers currently participating in the initiative, many of whom are working at the Homewood Children’s Village Bridge to College program.
HCV interim president and CEO Shannah Tharpe-Gilliam thanked CCAC for hosting the organization’s Summer STEAM program.
“Because of their generosity and their partnership with community organizations like the Homewood Children’s Village, we are able to show our kids in Homewood that yes, you fit on a college campus. Yes, you can do this. Yes, you have a bright an amazing future in front of you,” she said.
Raynard Lucas, 16, of Westinghouse High School is helping younger students apply STEAM concepts to real-world situations. Other students are working on research projects to solve social problems in their communities, such as obesity and low self-esteem.
Peduto told the teens they’re on the right path for successful careers.
“Our goal is to help you along that way by giving you the opportunity to do it yourself,” he said. “Nobody’s giving it to you. You’re doing it yourself, and I’m damn proud of you for that.”
On Tuesday, AT&T director of external affairs James Penna presented a $50,000 check to the Learn and Earn program. He said programs like this one are vital to make sure all kids in Pittsburgh have the opportunity to benefit from the city’s current growth trajectory.
“There are seeds that have to be planted, and growth and encouragement for those that might miss the bus to understand they can be a part of this renaissance,” Penna said.