Champaign backs summer jobs program for 2013

CHAMPAIGN — A city council evaluation of the city and school district's summer jobs program for students was all accolades again, and officials are getting started on the summer 2013 program earlier this time.

Council members unanimously supported another $75,000 in city funds for next year's student jobs, and the school board could match that number when the proposal comes before them. That would make $150,000 for a program that provided minimum-wage jobs for 150 Unit 4 students this summer at a cost of $172,880.

Last year, officials collected $27,800 in private donations from area businesses and individuals.

Supporters on Tuesday said it's not necessarily the wages that matter — although it provides good income for the students, who must qualify for free or reduced lunches to be eligible to work in the program — but rather the career skills the students attain over the course of the seven-week program.

Council member Michael La Due said the cost of the program is a tiny fraction of the city budget, but it has a big effect.

"Every young woman, every young man who goes through this program and programs like it, but this one certainly, doesn't just secure gains for themselves and their immediate family," La Due said. "They are living mentors in the community among their peers."

The program will be in its third year next summer, and this time, officials approached the city council about funding earlier than they have during the two previous years.

Program supervisor Suzanne Meislahn said she hopes that will give organizers more time to recruit and train students and find employers to hire the workers. She said officials hope to attract more male workers — only 66 of the 150 this year were boys — and diversify the student group by attracting more non-black students.

"We need more time," she said. "We need advance planning; we need to start now."

Council member Paul Faraci said he believes the program has "true potential."

"I really believe that we're in our infancy with this," Faraci said. "And what's going to be fun is in two years, in five years, in 10 years, looking back at this as it was evolving."

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