Fighting gangs with jobs: 150 positions available for teens who live in Districts 7, 8, 9

Fighting gangs with jobs: 150 positions available for teens who live in Districts 7, 8, 9

May 19th, 2013 by Yolanda Putman in Local Regional News

Dentist Dr. Elenora Woods works on patient Liliana Ramos on Friday in her Bonny Oaks office. Woods plans to hire two youths this summer to work in her office.

Photo by Tim Barber/Times Free Press.

BY THE NUMBERS

According to a report called Chattanooga Disparities, released last week by Ochs Center president Dr. Ken Chilton, the obstacles facing black youth here include:

* Poverty: 55.9 percent of black children in Hamilton County live in poverty compared with 16.5 percent for whites.

* Joblessness: At 16.2 percent in 2010, the unemployment rate for blacks was more than twice as high as the 7 percent rate for whites.

* Suspensions: Inner-city elementary schools such as Hardy, Barger and Calvin Donaldson lead the city in school suspensions compared with predominantly white schools like Thrasher, Nolan and Lookout Mountain, which have the least suspensions. There are more suspensions in mostly black high schools.

WHAT'S NEXT

The employment positions that Dr. Elenora Woods and the Alton Park Development Corp. have assembled have not yet been filled. Youths may get job applications at the Piney Woods Resource Center during business hours or online at www.altonparkcdc.org.

Children in Districts 7, 8 and 9, including East Lake, Alton Park, Westside and East Chattanooga areas, who want to work are asked to attend a jobs orientation with their parent or guardian at the Piney Woods Resource Center at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday.

At least 150 teens from the city's poorest communities will be offered jobs through a host of employers assembled by the Alton Park Development Corp.

"When we look at the disparities in the city, African-Americans are at the bottom of the list in everything," said Dr. Elenora Woods, executive director of the development corporation.

Black youths are more likely to be suspended from school, live in poverty, be unemployed or die than youth of any other race, Woods said.

"Our goal is to stop it at the beginning with prevention," she said. "We're appealing to local businesses to hire at least one youth."

So far Woods has put together a list of 60 employers offering 150 positions for teens ages 16-18. This is the first time the development corporation has assembled a work program that will hire so many teens.

Woods plans to hire two teens to work in her dental office.

"We had to do something," said Woods. "Gang violence is getting bigger, getting worse."

She said her son was robbed and attacked by a known gang member this year in his classroom at school.

Providing jobs will keep youth out of gangs, she said.

"Gangs have an economic program. You sell a little drugs, you get a little money," she said. "We're trying to show that if kids have an opportunity to do better, they will."

Krystal, Wendy's, the Piccadilly Deli and the Tennessee Aquarium are among the employers Woods said she has lined up to hire teens.

Woods asked employers to hire at least one youth from City Council districts 7, 8 and/or 9. Those districts comprise communities with high poverty and high unemployment including Alton Park, East Lake, the Westside and East Chattanooga.

She also asked that the youths be paid at least minimum wage and work a minimum of 20 hours a week.

In return, Woods will ask the teens' parent to assure that the youngsters get to work on time every day.

Sixteen-year-old Brittany Davis said she is interested in participating in a work program for youth.

"I've tried to find work," the Brainerd High School freshman said while walking through College Hill Courts.

She said she has put in applications at a number of businesses this year but hasn't been hired.

"I'll do anything I can get," she said. "I want to take responsibility and make my own money."

It's a challenge for youths to find work.

According to the website for the Center for American Progress, an independent, nonpartisan educational institute, the 2013 unemployment rate for American teens is 25.1 percent. But the unemployment rate for black teens is 43.1 percent.

That's why Woods' program is so important, said District 8 City Councilman Moses Freeman.

He said he didn't know how the city could afford a summer work program, but that one was needed. Without it, some children may have no job or productive activities, he said.

"An idle mind is the devil's workshop," said Freeman, "so we want to obviously do something to get ahold of our children."

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at yputman@timesfreepress.com.