Chicago teen programs hope to prevent more downtown chaos by providing new skills, jobs

John Garcia Image
Friday, April 21, 2023
Teen job fair hopes to provide youth with opportunities
More than 60 employers attended a job fair at Powerhouse Church in Washington Heights.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- For days we've been talking about how to prevent the kind of violence we saw in downtown Chicago last weekend, where young people were fighting and jumping on vehicles, and two were shot during the chaos.

One possible solution: programs where teens can put their energies to good use by learning skills and even earning a paycheck. Organizations around the city are reaching out to young people and encouraging them to join up.

SEE ALSO: What went wrong? How chaos unfolded in downtown Chicago

Ajah Smith, 19, has been looking for a job for months. And, with more than 60 employers on hand at a Powerhouse Church job fair, she found lots of possible opportunities.

"It gives you different opportunities to open your eyes to something you didn't think about," Smith said.

The event brought the employers together with several hundred job seekers for the job fair, hoping to help spread the word of opportunities in the community. For some employers who have had a hard time finding people to work, it's also a great opportunity.

At Alliance Care 360, they have a number of state grants to fulfill, but they need to hire employees, or risk losing the money.

"It's been a challenge trying to fulfill the grants. When you don't fulfill, the money goes away, and the community suffers," said Takira Brown with Alliance Care 360.

READ MORE: Chicago police brace for repeat of last weekend's unruly crowds downtown

Organizers said the images of young people causing mayhem in downtown Chicago last weekend suggest that young people have few opportunities.

But, they said the opportunities are available. And, they are trying to bring those opportunities to the community.

"Our teens are loaded with potential and loaded with gifts and they're looking for someone to take a chance on them," said Powerhouse Chicago Sr. Pastor Andria Hudson.

The fair also offers health screening for blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol, helping to ensure that new employees are healthy.

"Everybody being here makes it easier rather than going online through a struggle doing things you don't understand," said Deonna James, a job-seeker.

While not every job-seeker will leave there with a job, they will all know for sure that there are plenty of jobs available.

And, over at the After School Matters gift shop, walls are covered with artwork created by Chicago teenagers. For more than three decades, the organization has helped teens find and pursue their talents and interests.

Programs like After Schools Matters and Good Kids Mad City hope to aid Chicago police and parents with preventing teens from forming chaotic crowds.

"We believe if they have something they're excited about they will not get involved in negative activities," said Mary Ellen Caron.

Caron has been working with Chicago teens for years. She says many of the young people who flooded the streets, causing disturbances downtown last weekend, would not be there if they had something more productive to do, like a job.

SEE ALSO: Unruly crowds 'unacceptable,' but don't 'demonize youth': Brandon Johnson, Chicago mayor-elect

A number of city leaders introduced the One Summer Chicago program, which will provide jobs for some 20,000 Chicago teens this summer.

"Our community-based organizations are focusing on increasing our opportunity ecosystem, making sure all participants are paired with an adult and have a chance at meaningful experience," said Brandie Knazze with the Chicago Dept. of Family Support and Services.

The Chicago Park District is offering a variety of jobs, including hundreds of lifeguards which they say are in great demand.

READ MORE: Chicago pastors invite 500 Black men to join walk in response to downtown chaos last weekend

"Most of these jobs are outdoors. They are skill building jobs that insure kids are in a pipeline for growth," said Rosa Escareno, with Chicago Park District.

The One Summer Chicago program runs from late June through early mid-August. The jobs in the pay more than $15 an hour. You can apply for the program online by June 2.

For more information on One Summer Chicago, visit

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