Summer program aims to decrease youth unemployment, violence on South Side

By Tim Shaunnessey

The summer season has a radiance not present during other times of the year. That radiance leads many to spend the waning days of spring longing for months spent in the sun. But there are dangers inherent in the summer, particularly for youths, as a result of excess free time and subsequent violence among young people.

In an effort to combat this problem, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle announced April 6 that improvements to the One Summer Chicago program will provide 17,000 summer jobs and 168,000 activities for Chicago youth.

“Keeping children busy and engaged helps them grow and develop as people, but also keeps them safe so they can enjoy their summer,” Emanuel said in a written statement. “By collaborating with Cook County and other agencies, we are doing more than offering children the chance to develop strong, responsible work habits or earn money—we are giving kids a safe alternative to spending unsupervised time on the streets.”

The program is in its second year and has a new website,, that will enable youth to seek summer jobs and activities.

Evelyn Diaz, commissioner of the Department of Family and Support Services, said the goal for One Summer Chicago is two-fold: aiming to address the challenging work situation for youth in Chicago and counteracting the elevated risk for violence in summer months.

“We think summer is a really important time to engage youth in social activities,” Diaz said. “Not only do we think that unemployment has lifelong consequences, we also think that engaging [youth] in work has positive impacts: raising later wages, connecting kids, helping them develop work-related skills and keeping them engaged in school.”

Barbara Shaw, director of the Illinois Violence Prevention Authority, said there are many positive long-term consequences for youths who are involved in supportive and secure environments.

“For teenagers or preteens, you want to make sure there are as many adult-supervised, constructive, positive pathways for them to take [that allow them] to socialize, develop their talents and engage in positive behaviors,” Shaw said.

Extensive research is a crucial element to improving the programs, Diaz said. Developing such research is a special component of the One Summer Plus program that will function as both a positive experience for the youths involved and a means of gathering data for bettering the program.

“One Summer Plus is designed as a rigorous evaluation to test a couple of different employment models,” Diaz said. “We can begin to know whether different models have higher impacts or better cost benefits for the city.”

Diaz said the plan is to have a Plus designed to answer new research questions each year. The objective is to gather information about what works and where investments should be made for improvement.

Diaz said half of the kids involved in One Summer Plus will be involved in paid employment for six hours every afternoon. The other half will be involved for the same amount of time but will have paid employment for four hours and take part in a group project for two hours.

“During that project, they’re getting what we call social and emotional support,” Diaz said. “Instruction on life skills, work skills, things like attitude, initiative, self control [and] problem solving [are] all embedded into the project.”

Youth unemployment, which presents significant amounts of free time and increased danger for teens and young adults, is at a 60-year high, according to Diaz.

“In 2000, 44 percent of teens were employed,” Diaz said. “Only 26 percent were working in July 2010. There’s been this precipitous drop in employment.”

According to Shaw, violence is also prone to increase when the school day is over and is only amplified during the summer.

“Too much time invites problems,” she said. “We know adolescent crime peaks in p hours. Tensions are just higher [in summer]. There’s a great deal of heat in every sense of the word, and people get more easily aggravated.”