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Students Press Elected Officials for More Employment Opportunities at Youth Town Hall

Sentra Lamon went on what she calls a “job-hunting blitz” a month ago.

The Kenwood Academy High School graduate and current DeVry University student applied for 16 positions over a two-day span, only to hear “no” from potential employers due to what she believed to be a lack of job experience.

Now, Lamon is worried about paying back the mounting costs of her student loans, about $10,000 for her first year at college.

“I’m gonna have to pay all that stuff back after I get out in three years,” said Lamon. “And by me being so young and not having experience, I really can’t get [a job].”

What has been helping Lamon so far has been her position with Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization (KOCO) performing community outreach and organizing events.

She was one of several hundred youth and parents in attendance at a South Side youth town hall at Walter H. Dyett High School on Sunday rallying to reduce teen violence and push for an increase in employment opportunities.

The Life Campaign, an umbrella organization for ten Chicago youth groups with the Roosevelt Institute at Northwestern University, hosted the event.

The rally began on a somber tone as Dyett principal Robert M. McMiller shared having to attend two funerals of Dyett students since becoming Dyett’s principal in February.

“This is an important day for all of you,” said McMiller. “So I just want all of you to make the best of it.”

Over the course of two hours, high school and college youth spoke about how the impact of Illinois’ current budget crisis and the recession has affected their future educational goals.

However, many offered words of encouragement for their pursuits.

“For those of you who are in high school, look for scholarships,” said Corkey, a student at De Paul University, who said she was stressing over the pending eviction of her mother and younger sister as she worried about paying back $9,500 in loans.

“Just keep pushing through. It’s going to work out in the end. I promise,” she said.

In a speech that was part campaign pitch, Illinois State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, who is running for the U.S. Senate, said the only way for youth to have work opportunities is if they are “engaged in the process.”

“The decisions that are going to be made over the next few years in Washington, D.C. are going to determine the course this country takes for generations,” said Giannoulias.

But students pressed Giannoulias for a meeting to discuss creating 20,000 jobs each year though state funding. Giannoulias said he would work with the student organizations to make sure that funding is created.

Earlier this year, KOCO worked with state Rep. Esther Golar (D-Chicago) to introduce the Community Youth Employment Act, HB 3631, a grant to fund six weeks of summer mentoring and employment. Currently, the bill is in the House Rules Committee.

Golar was unavailable for comment.

In September, unemployment in Illinois was at 10.5 percent according to the Illinois Department of Employment Security. In 2008, nearly 26,000 jobs were projected to be created for the 14 to 18 age group, according to the website.

Rally host, Angie Rollins, a student at Columbia College Chicago, said she wanted to hear more details from Giannoulias rather than “you can do it” talk. She wants legislators to discuss what actions they will take to increase youth employment.

“I want to see them voting on the bills we’ve presented,” said Rollins. “They’ve got money. Contrary to popular belief they got money sitting there. They can do it.”

Check out a related story from WBEZ, Chicago Public Radio.

Listen to audio clips on the WBEZ/Vocalo blog.

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