Having moved to the United States from the Congo five years ago, Roosevelt High School senior Aline Ntibanyerekwa comes from humble beginnings.
“In Africa, I didn’t have the opportunity to get a job,” she said. But now as a part of the SummerWorks program, Ntibanyerekwa, 17, has been given a chance to pursue new goals as a college-bound student.
Ntibanyerekwa is among hundreds of Multnomah County-area youngsters ages 16-21 chosen through a vigorous selection process to be a part of the SummerWorks program, a program that works to provide job experience and a support network for largely at-risk or low-income young people.
Ntibanyerekwa, who will start her job this week at the Peninsula Children’s Center, was one of among about 100 young people who attended the kickoff program for the summer jobs program Monday, July 8, in the Multnomah County boardroom.
With only one in four young people between the ages of 16 and 19 with jobs, Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith said at the kickoff that the program “will single-handedly ensure that at least 500 kids will be off the streets, contributing to their community and gaining the necessary experience needed for a pathway of success.”
“It gives teens exposure to a career path that maybe some of the students haven’t thought about,” said the commissioner. “I want to grow a pipeline from all of you to jobs in the community. I want to see all of you come back and run Multnomah County.”
Concerned that many young people are disengaging from their school and community, Smith knows from first-hand experience that summer jobs change lives. She had a similar job opportunity as a teen-ager, when she earned a job through the federal Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) program.
“It made me accountable, made me responsible and made me come to work on time,” said Commissioner Smith, who has quadrupled the number of job opportunities at Multnomah County for youngsters to 100 this summer. “What the program does is that it prepares you, makes you job ready, makes you understand why education is so important.”
The summer jobs program is a partnership among Multnomah County, the City of Portland, Worksystems, the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization and a variety of other businesses and organizations.
Also speaking at the July 8 kickoff were Portland Mayor Charlie Hales; Worksystems executive director Andrew McGough and director of youth investments Heather Ficht; and IRCO employment program manager Victoria Libov.
“This is beyond a paycheck,” McGough told the interns. “We know that when you go to work, there is no better place to learn what it takes to be successful on the job than going on the job. In a state like ours that is so reliant on income as a mechanism to drive public services, there’s no better payoff for this state than to have people working.”
Ntibanyerekwa, who is second oldest in a family of eight siblings, remembers her first days at school when language posed a huge barrier for her.
“It was really hard because I didn’t speak English,” she said. “At school, I was nervous...it was like learning how to speak again.”
Ntibanyerekwa overcame the obstacles and became very involved in school, which was especially important for her siblings’ sake.
“I became a role model for my younger sisters, because now they are doing a lot of activities, too,” she said.
Eric Dekay, who just finished his first year of college at the University of Oregon, will also participate in the summer jobs program. It was a much needed boost because without a job, he wouldn’t have the financial ability to continue college. DeKay, 19, plans to take classes at Portland State University. DeKay will use his money from working in facilities and building maintenance to make his way back to U of O in a year.
“I am really thankful for the program,” DeKay said. “Without working over the summer, it would’ve delayed me going back ... even longer.”
Centennial High School junior Katherine Federici said the job experience will help her later in life. “Especially with no job experience other than babysitting and helping my disabled grandmother,” Federici said, “it would be really hard for me to go out and get a job.”