CHAMPAIGN — A summer jobs program for Unit 4 students will continue in 2012.
But with city funds at a premium, officials asked for a little more help from community organizations and private businesses to keep the program alive.
The fledgling summer youth employment program was widely considered a success by school administrators and city officials in its first year last summer, but the initiative wasn't cheap. Last year, it cost the city $195,000 in cash drawn from a fund that would otherwise pay for infrastructure improvements in low-income neighborhoods.
Nearly 150 high school-age students were placed in summer jobs around the city last year. They earned $8.25 per hour — a total of about $1,000 per student by summer's end. But more importantly, officials say, they learned practical work skills and their jobs kept them distracted from falling into more troublesome summer activities.
At a closing ceremony last August, officials knew they wanted to continue the program, but they were not sure how to pay for it.
"If this program goes away, we basically fail our youth," said Marques Lowe, who has been closely involved in the program both years.
After council support this week, the city would still be on the hook for $100,000. And this time, it will come from the general fund, which pays for the city's general operating costs, instead of the urban renewal fund, which is earmarked for specific neighborhood improvement projects.
The rest will be made up by a $50,000 contribution from the school district, and nearly two dozen donations from private businesses and local community organizations.
Lowe was part of a group soliciting those donations.
"If we invest in them (students) now, we show them hope for the future," he said.
ACCESS Initiative, the Housing Authority of Champaign County and the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District each promised contributions of $7,000, $5,000 and $3,000 respectively. Utility companies chipped in: Ameren Illinois has promised $2,000 and Illinois American Water has promised at least $1,000.
The Champaign Park District and the University of Illinois have promised $10,000 each in direct payments to students who will be placed in jobs with the agencies.
A number of other private businesses and individuals donated money: All together, organizers have $208,700 to work with.
Council member Marci Dodds, with her husband, Jon "Cody" Sokolski, promised to donate $1,000 and another $1,000 from his business, One Main Development. She said the program is good for the whole community, and it "teaches accountability and it teaches work skills, which sometimes don't get taught."
Council member Will Kyles gushed about the program, too.
"There are people that do need these jobs, and they're going to lead to future development," he said.
Kyles said he is pleased with seeing the donations toward the program, but he hopes officials can find more permanent funding to continue the program into the future.
Part of the money the city and the school district are contributing includes $20,000 each in recurring funds to ensure that a minimum amount to at least cover administrative costs will be there each year, said Joan Walls, deputy city manager for community relations.
"I am looking for, next, to have more of a sustainable tool because I do realize to go to a business and ask them for dollars when they just laid off people is a very difficult thing," Kyles said.
Mayor Don Gerard said it is "remarkable" how many students participate, and it's not just free money.
"They had to get up in the morning, and they really had to work for it," he said.
Lowe said, even with Tuesday's affirmation that the program will continue this summer, he is not done seeking donations. He said the program is too important to the city's young people.
"If you look at our community, we have a lot of Kiwane Carringtons running around. We have a lot of Trayvon Martins running around, and we need to solve that problem," Lowe said. "And this is the biggest thing that can solve that problem."