Summer Work Program Gives Youth a Step Up on Success


If she weren’t spending this summer interning in Allina hospitals, Salma Hussein said she would be sitting on the couch watching TV all day. But with the help of a summer youth program, she’s gaining a much-needed experience in the real world before she begins college this fall.

“The work experience is invaluable for me,” she said.

The 19-year-old Roosevelt High School graduate is one of 650 Minneapolis students participating in the city’s Step-Up program, a public-private partnership. Designed to keep youth off the streets while readying them to be successful in life, the program is already registering some success.

At its fourth anniversary, the program is the second-largest in the country, according to David Brant, its program director. More than 150 employers—and the numbers are growing—are hiring high-school kids for part-time and, in some cases, full-time summer jobs.

Students of color make up more than 90 percent of participants, according to Brant. Most of them are considered “at-risk youth.” That means they likely would have fallen through the cracks if they weren’t matched up with summer jobs.

“People are serious about closing the gap,” said Brant.

U.S. Bancorp CEO Richard Davis, whose Minneapolis-based bank will hire 25 interns this summer, is co-chairing the program. For inspiration, he tells interns about his humble beginning with the bank. He started out as a teller and worked his way up to the helm.

Hussein, who plans to study psychology at the University of Minnesota, hopes to move up the ladder at Allina hospitals. “More than anything, I learned dedication,” she said. “And I believe that will serve me well in the future.”

Some 1,700 kids applied the program. Limited space and a rigorous four weeks of training have shrunk the number of participants. Brant says he set an ambitious goal of enrolling 1,300 kids by 2010, though the city, which funds the program, wouldn’t promise that.

After dramatic reduction in federally assisted summer jobs, Minneapolis mayor R. T. Rybak helped engineer the program as part of his “Minneapolis Promise” campaign.

“He sees this generation as the most important one,” said his spokesman, Jeremy Hanson. “So he made an unprecedented effort to create—and coordinate—activities for the youth.”

Some parents in violence-plagued neighborhoods such as North Minneapolis have repeatedly complained about too much free time in the hands of kids, especially in the summer.

Hanson said this program is part of the answer. “To keep youth safe is to keep them busy-and give them a tool to succeed in life.”