Roughly two dozen began work this summer as part of a program initiated a year ago by the Proviso Township Ministerial Alliance (PTMAN), a large network of suburban churches and clergy members.
The four-week work program, designed for young people ages 13 to 16, matches local students from all over the Chicago and the western suburbs, including a few teenagers from the West Side. Last year, said Min. Albert Johnson, PTMAN's outreach coordinator, the program outdid expectations.
During an orientation session and monthly PTMAN breakfast meeting held on June 10 at Freedom Baptist Church in Hillside, Johnson shared the story of Darnyce Springfield, who worked for the summer at Marcus Wright Dental in Maywood.
"They were so impressed with this young lady that they decided to bring her on permanently," Johnson told the teenagers as they gathered inside of Freedom Baptist's cavernous sanctuary (a converted movie theater).
More than 10 suburban employers, including Marcus Wright, Triton College, the Maywood Park District and Kathy's Cafe, have agreed to temporarily employ the youth for four weeks — four hours a day and four days a week — at roughly $8 an hour. Johnson referred to the setup as the 4-4-4 plan.
The money to pay the young people, Johnson said, comes from PTMAN's member churches and local entities that pledge to donate different amounts. One church in Naperville even hosted a benefit concert for the program.
The program is the brainchild of PTMAN's chairman, Bishop Dr. Reginald Saffo, the pastor of United Faith M.B. Church and head of United Faith Christian Institute Bible College, both located in Maywood.
During an interview last year about the employment program, Saffo said that he wanted to demonstrate that local institutions, particularly churches, could drive the local economy in their own ways, independent of government funding.
"A lack of government funding should never preclude our children from having a safe and productive summer," he said. "We felt that it was our moral obligation to provide our youth with this experience. Churches that have an understanding of their role in community are very supportive and positive about these kinds of projects."
During the June 10 meeting, Saffo said that the goal of the program is to do more than provide young people with jobs. He said he hopes the program can help teenagers find what it is that fulfills them and gives them purpose.
Most of the teenagers sat silently through the orientation process, which included some of the program's coordinators briefing them on workplace etiquette (the need to come on time and to dress properly, among other protocols).
The teenagers came from Maywood, Bellwood, Chicago and as far away as DuPage County. When asked how they hoped the program will benefit them during the orientation's first hour, most responded that a summer job would keep them busy and occupied.
"We have many partners looking forward to meeting you all," said Johnson before referencing Springfield's success story. "This is an excellent opportunity to go out and do what your best because you never know the possibilities."
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