Having a job is, according to Doug Ackley ’90, “the difference sometimes between somebody making the decision to go to the streets and find ways of making money, or staying in school because they have money from a real job and they’re not worried about having their basic needs met.”
Ackley was quoted recently in an article in the Democrat and Chronicle as the director of Rochester Programs for the Center for Teen Empowerment, an organization that works with youth in the community to create meaningful change. The organization held its annual luncheon May 1.
The article notes Ackley “was working for Teen Empowerment in Boston in the 1990s during the ‘Boston Miracle’ – the nickname given for a two-year stretch when no young people were the victim or perpetrator of a homicide in that city. Much of that success was attributed to neighborhood businesses and associations opening up jobs to youth.”
Speaking of this time period he is quoted, “It was huge, it transformed the way that the community looked at young people, and looked at them not in need of services but as a valuable resource in our community with the potential to make incredible changes.”
A Boston native, Ackley joined Teen Empowerment in Boston in 1993, the year the center was established there. He worked at the South End/Lower Roxbury site, the Madison Park and Dorchester High School sites and at a pilot location at the DYS Judge Connelly Treatment Facility. His extensive experience includes helping to supervise staff and provide consulting, training and technical assistance to organizations interested in implementing the Teen Empowerment model across the country. He moved to the Rochester, N.Y., area and opened the Teen Empowerment site there in 2002.
Ackley earned a B.A. in English and French from Hobart College. As a student he was a member of the swimming and tennis teams and earned letter and emblem awards for each. Prior to joining Teen Empowerment, Ackley spent a year working with teens in central California through the Jesuit Volunteer Program and at a residential facility for youth in Boston. He returned to campus in March to speak with students in the “Developmental Psycopathology” class taught by Visiting Assistant Professor of Psychology John Peltz.
The full Democrat and Chronicle article follows.
Democrat and Chronicle
Program aims to solve teen jobs problem
Jon Hand • May 7, 2014
For the myriad issues they can’t agree on, there is one that many city officials, teens, and youth advocates can:
One of the best ways to curb street-level criminal activity is to get young people employed – and an emerging, youth-driven initiative which partners young people with a coalition of business owners and community leaders is looking to make that happen.
At its annual luncheon and awards ceremony Thursday, Teen Empowerment of Rochester will announce the Southwest Youth Jobs Collaborative, a grant-funded plan to connect young people looking for jobs with business owners who need good workers.
Having a job, said Doug Ackley, director of TE Rochester, is “the difference sometimes between somebody making the decision to go to the streets and find ways of making money, or staying in school because they have money from a real job and they’re not worried about having their basic needs met.”
Youth employment in Rochester has been a major struggle in past years as teenagers say jobs in their neighborhoods are scarce and businesses are unwilling to hire them; and business owners say they don’t have the jobs to offer – especially for untrained young people looking for their first job.
“We’re trying to rebuild the community through jobs – from inside the community,” said Arquan Smith, 17, a youth organizer with TE and student in the urban/suburban program and Brockport High School.
“With teens, when school is not going well for them, and certain things aren’t going right in their lives, jobs can help, we don’t want them to turn to the streets as an alternative to school.”
The Southwest Youth Jobs Collaborative is tentatively a two-year process broken into two phases.
The first phase, going on this year, “is a lot of building awareness about the value of youth employment, the necessity of it, and what it can do to do for the community,” said Jennifer Banister, development and collaborations manager for TE.
Meetings have already been held with business owners, leaders of southwest business associations and others, and a survey has been created for business owners.
On Tuesday, several of TE’s youth workers visited businesses with those surveys and asked them questions such as “What was your first job?”, “What skills did you learn?”, “Do you hire youth?” and “What has been your experience hiring youth.”
“We are trying to … recruit new employers who will be more interested and willing to hire youth,” Banister said. “We need to find out the skills that would be needed to do those jobs and maybe even fears they’ve had or experiences they’ve had with hiring youth in the past. And then get them hooked up with the training resources that are available.”
Smith and three of his TE colleagues visited businesses on Chili Avenue, including Livie’s Jamaican Restaurant and Import Market at the corner of Sherwood Avenue where Suzette Williams was behind the counter.
Williams said she supports the jobs program (and took the time to complete the survey), but like many small, family owned businesses on tight budgets, they do not have many jobs to offer, if any.
“We don’t usually have a lot of room for hiring people in the summer,” she said. “It’s a pity, because it would be nice, but we don’t have a demand for that. We’d like to because it takes them off the street, but we just can’t.”
Jackie Farrell, a resident of the 19th ward who acted as an adult helper for the group on Tuesday, estimated there are about 150 business in the Chili Avenue, Genesee Street area, and believe that many would hire young people.
“It’s very important, we have a lot of youth on the street and people drive down and they see them hanging out on the street and they look at them and just assume they are not doing anything for themsleves, that they are not trying to move ahead,” she said.
“But they are brilliant, they are wonderful, they are trying so hard to make a difference and they deserve jobs just like the rest of us.”
The group plans to analyze the responses of people such as Williams and eventually meet with Mayor Lovely Warren to discuss their plan. They also plan to host a youth jobs march and “speak out” June 12 where they hope to draw 100 to 200 young people, employers and city and community leaders.
The second phase of the process will include “recruitment of employers and qualified youth applicants for positions; build the employment skills of youth; connect youth with potential employers; and support employers and youth employees to help them work together successfully,” according to plans for the program.
Banister said there is a whole range of jobs they are looking to identify, and the initiative is working with a $50,000 grant from Farash Foundation that will be used to get the program up and running, not to fund jobs. In time, the group hopes to replicate the job program in other parts of the city.
TE and its young workers will likely have a willing participant in Warren who has said numerous times in the past that a major reason for criminal activity among youth is a lack of job opporuntities.
“Violence stems from other things. The people who commit these crimes, many of them are uneducated and don’t have access to jobs,” Warren said in November after a vigil held for TySean Williams, a young man killed while trying to protect his family. “So, we have to start to focus on the core problems, and then I believe we will be able to reduce the violence.”
Each year, Ackley sees first hand the need for more jobs when he puts out his annual notice that TE is hiring its 12-member team.
He gets hundreds of applications.
“It’s hard every year, there are so many youth looking to work,” he said.
He’s also seen the impact jobs for young people can have on a city.
He was working for TE in Boston in the 1990s during the “Boston Miracle” – the nickname given for a two-year stretch when no young people were the victim or perpetrator of a homicide in that city. Much of that success was attributed to neighborhood businesses and associations opening up jobs to youth.
“It was huge, it transformed the way that the community looked at young people, and looked at them not in need of services but as a valuable resource in our community with the potential to make incredible changes,” Ackley said.
The lack of jobs and high number of teens needing them is caused by several factors. In a down economy, older workers are competing for jobs typically taken by younger workers; business owners are doing more with fewer workers.
And in recent years, the number of recreation centers and other after-school activities for youth have been eliminated or reduced, leaving more to fend for themselves in the hours after school.
The national unemployment rate for teens aged 16 to 19 has been above 20 percent for more than five years. In the Rochester area, the unemployment rate has averaged more than 30 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“I’ve lived here in the neighborhood for the last 45 years or so, and youth education and employment is so important,” said John DeMott, organizer of the Genesee Corridor Business Association. “It’s almost a key to revitalization. We want to see businesses grow and prosper, and issues with youth are vital.”
Ackley and Smith said young people don’t want just summer, seasonal work, but year-round jobs that they can become invested in.
“A lot of them are looking for jobs, and they want them throughout the school year,” Smith said. “You can get a summer job through Summer of Opportunity, but they want jobs all year round so they can go to movies and do things with their friends.”
And they want those jobs to be in their own neighborhoods.
“We want them to work in their own community, like how it used to be in the 1970s and 80s when those businesses were thriving because the community came together and employed a lot of people inside the community.
“We want to work here.”
If you know a business willing to work with Teen Empowerment’s Southwest Youth Jobs Collaborative, contact Duane Yansen at the TE office, 392 Genesee St. or call (585) 697-3453.