Several Westside community groups have found a unique way around the state’s budget stalemate, which has prompted funding cuts to social services like the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), childcare assistance subsidies and even summer jobs programs for teens.
The newly formed Community Coalition on Summer Youth Work Experience (CCSYWE) has launched a GoFundMe page and will host a benefit concert with a local band on August 19 to raise funds themselves to employ Austin youth, ages 16 to 24, in a six-week summer jobs program.
The goal is to raise $180,000 to fund up to 100 youth with stipends between $1,600 and $1,800 — essentially offsetting the loss of state funding for the city’s summer jobs programs.
“The need doesn’t go away because the funding is not there,” said Rev. Steve Epting, pastor of Hope Community Church, one of seven groups comprising CCSYWE.
Other organizations include Austin Chamber of Commerce, Second Chance Community Organization, Westside Health Authority, Austin Peoples Action Center, Fathers Who Care and Loretto Hospital.
These groups, Epting said, knew funding was going to be cut. Their mutual alarm prompted them to discuss creative ways to raise funds for youth employment. The GoFundMe campaign was one of them. Austin is plagued with many problems and providing jobs for teens and young adults shouldn’t be among them, Epting noted.
“If individuals donate just the minimum of $10, that funds one hour of work experience for a young teenager,” Epting said, noting the donation represents the city’s hourly minimum wage rate.
CCSYWE is an initiative of the Loretto Hospital’s Youth Council on Healthcare. It seeded the administrative cost for the GoFundMe page and the benefit concert to be held at the Wire, 6815 W. Roosevelt Road in Berwyn, IL. Advance tickets are $125 and $135 at the door.
Each organization would have employed approximately 60 to 70 kids for the summer, said State Rep. Camille Lilly (78th), who also serves as Loretto Hospital’s vice president of external affairs. Only 46 kids are currently working among the organizations, she noted.
The state budget had $20 million for summer jobs, but when those dollars didn’t come the “coalition did not want the summer to go past without doing something for the youth and keeping them safe and showing them that they care,” Lilly said.
The founder of Second Chance Community Organization knows first-hand the impact of the state’s budget crisis has on her organization’s summer jobs program. Last year, Roslynn Hogan employed 30 youths. This year she could only employ two to four youths.
“Our program was really cut. When I say cut, it was cut,” Hogan said. “We were really affected by it. But it still didn’t stop us from opening up the doors every day and putting [youth] to work.”
The budget cuts not only affected the numbers of kids she can hire, but the type of summer experience provided to them as well. Hogan eliminated field trips this year and was unable to provide workshops on resume writing, financial literacy, and tutoring on math and reading.
“Buses are very expensive. It’s $300 a pop. So every time you schedule a field trip, that’s $300 you have to come up with to pay for that field trip. So we did a lot of things within the community,” she said, adding the $10 that each person gives to the GoFundMe campaign can go a long way.
“My motto is it’s not equal giving, but equal sacrifice,” Hogan said. “We are not asking for a lot of money …”
The coalition hopes to make the GoFundMe initiative ongoing in order to fund after-school job opportunities. The state’s budget crisis has caused a shift in how community groups look at future funding for their programs, Epting said.
“I think [the reality is that] community organizations will have to think in a different light to maintain the services that they provide. It is much more difficult and requires more manpower and partnerships, but it must be done.”
For more information on this initiative, call 773-854-5502. To donate, click here.