When Chekemma Fulmore-Townsend was just 14, she got her first job at a non-profit organization dedicated to helping senior citizens live independently.
“There was someone depending on me every day to show up. I was in charge of about 10 seniors, helped them do food shopping … it was a great experience,” Fulmore-Townsend said.
Now, as president and CEO of the Philadelphia Youth Network (PYN) for three years, Fulmore-Townsend, 36, is behind the effort to help Philly youths have their own formative first job experiences this summer through WorkReady Philadelphia.
Fulmore-Townsend and Mayor Jim Kenney kicked off the call Monday at the Free Library to private corporations to either hire Philly youth or sponsor the cost of one summer job ($1,800) so the program can reach its goal of employing 10,000 youths this July and August.
“We don’t just tell people about making opportunities available – we open our doors,” Fulmore-Townsend said, pointing out that one of her first interns through WorkReady Philadelphia has since gone on to become a counselor helping students succeed in college.
“You get to see the impact very directly and very clearly,” she said.
Youth employment for 16 to 19-year-olds in Philadelphia is 15.6 percent, about half the state and national averages, according to PYN. WorkReady Philadelphia is aimed at improving those numbers.
“It’s extremely impactful,” said Kelly Davis, executive director of Lutheran Settlement House in Fishtown, of the WorkReady Philadelphia Program.
Davis’s program has employed youths in a relationships training course that certified them as “student ambassadors,” while others got jobs working on a farm at Frankford and Master side-by-side with senior citizens.
Wanda Davis, the mother of a 15-year-old at William Penn Charter School, came to the kick-off event with concerns about whether there will be enough jobs to go around to help her enterprising son find work. “Every year, by the time you get go on the site, they don’t have a job or they’re all filled,” said Davis, of South Philly. “To me it doesn’t make sense that we have a city as large we do, but we run out of jobs and money.”
Davis works in catering, but doesn’t have the funds to pay interns.
“We have to reward them to give them some sense of why they should be looking for a job,” Davis said. “Your network equals your net worth.”
Fulmore-Townsend said Davis’ comments are “a fair criticism,” but pointed out that each year PYN starts with zero jobs, and is focused on working their way up from 4,200 jobs, the number currently available, up to their goal of 10,000 jobs. By 2020, the program wants reach 16,000 jobs.
“We want to reach every young person,” Fulmore-Townsend said. “This city has never let us down. I don’t expect this year to be the first year that happens.”
Fulmore-Townsend is asking people who can hire youths or who can donate to pay for a summer job visit PhillySummerJobs.org and commit before April 30 to giving a young person their first job.