Chattanooga teen jobs program finds obstacles, success

More than 700 teenagers came to the Alton Park Development Corp. seeking jobs this summer. A local dentist and mom helped 146 of them find work.

Dr. Elenora Woods, executive director of the Alton Park Development Corp., had to turn away the others because she couldn’t find jobs. Some of them didn’t have transportation. Some lacked interviewing skills and some went to their interviews dressed inappropriately for the job, she said.

The summer didn’t go exactly as planned, said Woods, but she’s not giving up her efforts to help.

She’ll start operating an after-school program on Sept. 8, she said.

And before she sends more teens out for jobs, she’ll have them wear their interview outfits to the center.

She’s still seeking to develop partnerships with potential employers, she said.

Woods also provided summer enrichment for youths not old enough for the workforce. That was also a challenge, according to some teens.

The goal was for the teens and pre-teens to earn money by cutting grass and doing yard work. But there were more teens willing to cut grass than Woods had lawn equipment.

Woods still didn’t give up. She asked people to donate lawn mowers. Then she started forming partnerships with several companies and professionals willing to share their expertise and resources with the children.

Double Cola came on board, hired a few teens to work for the company and supplied the youths with drinks, water and sunglasses to take on nature walks, said Adam Kelman, marketing assistant for Double Cola.

Parks and Recreation therapeutic art teacher Jerry Allen volunteers on his days off to teach art classes. Some of the students’ work will be on display at the Hunter Art Museum of American Art from Aug. 1-31.

And Rex Grant, founder of Solarex Southeast Tennessee, has set up a solar power demonstration outside the Piney Woods Resource Center where the group meets. He gives the youths hands-on demonstrations about solar energy.

Woods partnered with First Things First, which offers anger management classes, and Horace and Reba Ratliff Hatcher volunteer to teach gardening.

“There are not enough grocery stores around here, so we’re showing them how to grow their own fruits and vegetables,” said Reba Hatcher. She and her husband have been gardening as a hobby for 30 years and have won two Scenic Cities Beautiful awards for their yard.

The youths have gone on field trips to Greenway Farms, taken a trip to City Hall to learn more about city government, and visited the Chattanooga Community Kitchen to hand out flip-flops to people who needed them.

The summer program ends this week. Woods said she hopes to have brought in enough money to give all the children a $500 stipend before school starts to help them prepare for the school year.

She has received no city funding, but did get funding from Bank of America and some area churches.

In September she will start the after-school program involving many of the same youth. She will offer art, and tutoring in math, reading and science.

Alecia Miree, a 16-year-old hired as an office assistant at the Piney Woods Resource Center, said she has no complaints about the program. She’s just glad to have found work. She said she put in applications at Wendy’s, Arby’s, McDonald’s and tried for hotel housekeeping jobs, but never got hired.

“It’s hard to find a job,” she said. “If I had not been hired here, I would probably still be looking.”

Al Chapman, president of the Front Porch Alliance, said he supports Wood’s efforts this summer and throughout the school year. The Front Porch Alliance gave her a $10,000 grant to help feed the youths over the sumer.

“She’s not just babysitting kids,” he said. “She getting them involved with the environment, tutoring them and some of them are being hired.”

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at or 423-757-6431.