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For local youths, a summer job provides valuable exposure to the work world

Another year of matching Cuyahoga County students with summer jobs is in the books for Youth Opportunities Unlimited

Flowers, footballs and a day at the beach decorate the windows of this building in Cleveland’s West Park neighborhood.

The murals are drawn by teens paid by Youth Opportunities Unlimited summer jobs program. For Shirley Rigera, working on this future community center is her first job.

For close to 40 years, the Y.O.U. organization has employed youth in grades 8 through 12 to earn money and gain job skills. It is responsible for administering the youth summer jobs program for Cuyahoga County and the city of Cleveland.

It partners with organizations like the Cleveland Browns and the Cleveland Police Foundation to offer youths experiences such as mock job interviews and making presentations on public health topics.

Other teens learned how to code websites. Michael Herron and students from Ginn Academy chose to make a website for a local business, Calypso’s Cafe in Collinwood. The restaurant owner was grateful for the help.

As Herron says, "With this knowledge that I know now, I can actually make my own website. And somebody can pay me to design a website for them.”

Learning skills, getting paid and helping the community -- it is a win all the way around, which is why Y.O.U.'s summer jobs program is so popular. 

And there are even more positives associated with the program. A Case Western Reserve University study found that students completing Y.O.U.'s summer program had better school attendance, higher graduation rates and less involvement with the juvenile court system.

The challenge that Y.O.U. faces is that the number of job applications it receives always far exceeds the number of summer jobs available. In a typical year it receives 15,000 job applications for fewer than 3,000 jobs. And this year, due to the pandemic, they could only place 1,500 students with jobs, said Missy Toms, vice president of development and communications.

Y.O.U. is already looking for companies that will offer summer jobs to Cuyahoga County teens next year. To learn more, go to youthopportunities.org/syep