116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Washington High School junior Lavelle Dawson started his first job this summer working for the City of Cedar Rapids in their parks and recreation department.
Dawson, 16, mowed the lawn at Noelridge Park, trimmed trees and overall kept it looking nice. Although there were some hot, “tedious” days, Dawson enjoyed the work. “Professionalism sets the groundwork for anything and everything you do,” he said.
Dawson is one of 24 Cedar Rapids high school students who graduated from the Urban Dreams summer employment program Wednesday — some with job experience under their belt.
Izaah Knox, executive director of Urban Dreams, said the program seeks to reduce barriers and open doors for students who don’t have access to summer employment. The program is for high school students ages 16 and older.
“Why would a 16-year-old kid know how to get a job unless someone teaches them and helps them along the way?” Knox said. “We’re not trying to say, ‘Here’s a career.’ Here’s a job. Learn how to work.”
This is the second year of Urban Dreams summer youth employment program in Cedar Rapids. The program has been operating in Des Moines for the last several decades, Knox said. He would like to see a “more in-depth and engaging relationship” with Cedar Rapids schools in the future.
Students are interviewed by both Urban Dreams and their employer. Most students who apply for the program get pre-interviews with Urban Dreams, where they can learn more about the interview process.
Urban Dreams also works with employers to provide cultural competency training and other assistance. Many of the companies have never hired a high school student before, Knox said.
Getting employers involved with the program takes “a lot of phone calls and a lot of conversations,” Knox said. They trust Urban Dreams to send students that will be successful in their organizations.
Throughout the summer, Knox sees students become “more confident, diligent, secure. They show up, answer questions and have adult conversations and put their phones down.”
Students were hired at local businesses including Casey’s gas station, Chick-fil-A, the City of Cedar Rapids, Gianna’s Italian Beef, Godfathers Pizza, Hy-Vee grocery store, Jiffy Lube, Lion’s Bridge Brewery, McDonald’s, Need Pizza and Trees Forever.
Naiauna Leech, 16, a senior-to-be at Washington High who works at Casey’s, said she needed to learn teamwork. The youth employment program “looks good on a resume,” she said. She wants to explore a career in health care and is considering becoming a paramedic or emergency Room doctor.
Yauna Keith, 18, an upcoming senior at Metro High School, was unable to work this summer because she was also attending summer school. However, Yauna feels she learned better money management at the summer youth employment program and to ask her manager for help when she needs it, she said.
In addition to a summer job, students met every Wednesday for professional development where they learned skills such as communication, networking and time management, and financial literacy.
Grant funding from Bank of America ensured each student was paid $12 an hour. If a company couldn’t offer $12 an hour, their salary was subsidized by the grant. Students also were paid for time they spent in class.
“One of the goals of the summer youth employment program is to provide the services, teach the skills and offer role models for youth in our community who may not have easy access to these jobs,” said Daniel Johnson, president and CEO of Children of Promise Mentoring, who taught the Wednesday classes.
Some students have never had an interview, never had a work crisis and want to quit because they don’t know how to solve a program, Johnson said. He coaches them on how to navigate the workplace to be successful.
Some students also didn’t have bank accounts. They got to open a bank account at Dupaco Credit Union and received their first debit card.
“Hats off to them for coming for eight weeks,” Johnson said.
Comments: (319) 398-8411; firstname.lastname@example.org