By AARON GETTINGER
The Obama Foundation and the Urban Alliance, a national nonprofit that links under-resourced, economically disadvantaged youth with professional skills training, work experience and mentorship, announced the joint creation of the Obama Youth Jobs Corps (O.J.Y.C.) Thursday, March 22, at an event in Hyde Park Academy High School’s library.
The three-phase program will focus on getting South Side students skills, experience and exposure to real world career opportunities. Sophomores will participate in five professional development and workforce training sessions. Juniors will further study professional development and financial literacy and engage in post-high school planning. Seniors will be paired with with OYJC’s partnering businesses for a paid internship marked by one-on-one mentoring.
Students from Hyde Park Academy High School (6220 S. Stony Island Ave.), Kenwood Academy High School (5015 S. Blackstone Ave.) and the Little Black Pearl Art & Design Academy (1060 E. 47th St.) will participate in the OYJC’s pilot year. Business partners include Ariel Investments, Bank of America, Hyatt, the Pritzker Foundation and the University of Chicago.
The program is set to expand in the 2018–19 school year.
Hyde Park High School Principal Antonio Ross said, “I know from my experience that talent and hard work is sometimes not enough. You need talent and opportunity and you need exposure.”
Obama Foundation Civic Engagement Officer Michael Strautmanis, an Obama campaign and administration alumnus, said that although the Obama Presidential Center’s opening day is years away, “We are not waiting until that day to begin identifying and creating opportunities for us to support our kids.”
Strautmanis said the Foundation understands that the need for opportunity is great.
“Young men and woman on the South and West sides of our city do not have the same access to the types and varieties of opportunities that young people in other areas of our city do,” he said.
Strautmanis said the Obama Foundation’s goal in creating the OYJC is to inspire and empower the next generation of leaders—“That must start now, and that must start right here with our young people.”
The Obama Foundation already has four interns through the project.
Urban Alliance CEO Eshauna Smith spoke next, saying that the OYJC will train 1,115 sophomores, 320 juniors and 560 seniors over the next five years. She said the Urban Alliance has provided over 4,000 internships (including 780 in Chicago alone), that 90 percent of Urban Alliance seniors are accepted into a four-year college and that 80 percent of them continue into their second year.
“Now, through the OYJC, we’re combining our proven workforce development experience with the Obama Foundation’s commitment to ensuring young people have the tools that they need to change their lives and their communities,” she said.
Ariel Investments Community Affairs Manager Auyana Orr said her company realized their executive responsibility to consider civil rights and diversity. “Not only are we living our values by supporting the creation of a diverse talent pipeline comprised of students who are primed for next-generation leadership, but the reciprocal learning that takes place from working with students is invaluable and a true joy to experience,” she said.
Sandy Pierce, a senior vice president at Bank of America, said, “I have heard and experienced time and time again what a fulfilling experience this has been for so many of my colleagues and myself personally. So when we were asked to join in this new partnership, it was a win–win for everybody.”
She reflected on her own experience growing up on the West Side, remarking that a school counselor had once discouraged her from applying to the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign.
“I know what the value is of having someone believe in you, to have a program that can help develop you and push you forward,” she said.