Tackling Youth Unemployment Through Near-Peer Mentoring

It's much more than a just summer job...

I’m sure most of you can remember your first job… lifeguard at the local pool, cashier at the McDonald's down the street, babysitting your siblings for a couple of extra bucks from your parents. Whatever it may have been, whatever age it was--we’ve all had a first job. This is a job that helped advance you towards adulthood, that made you feel important, and ultimately - a job that paid. Having a job is a crucial part of an adolescent's process of growing up and maturing, especially if their first job is before they turn eighteen. President Obama has said, "Access to a job in the summer and beyond can make all the difference to a young person, ­especially those who don't have access to many resources and opportunities."  At Practice Makes Perfect (PMP), we have structured our program to benefit our youth employees’ maturity, leadership skills, and overall independence. PMP gives them a position that not only pays, but helps them play a meaningful part in their community.

PMP strives to provide employment opportunities for students as young as 4th grade all the way through high school. Youth unemployment rates have skyrocketed across the nation and PMP wants to be part of the solution. In our model, we hire mentors just four years older than our scholars to assist in our summer program. Throughout the day, mentors can be seen helping scholars achieve Common Core objectives, offering invaluable personal guidance, and developing their own leadership and communication styles.

These young employees are absolutely vital to PMP’s program. They serve a unique purpose by providing a sense of knowledge, belongingness, and comfortability in each scholar's life. A relationship of this sort holds great responsibility that we trust our mentors are able to fulfill. Being from the same community as their scholars, mentors fill the position of a role model, a relationship that is truly irreplaceable. Through this position, mentors help their scholars through difficult academic and personal issues; they lead, empower, and impact their lives.

Our nine to thirteen year old mentors are too young to receive minimum wage, and thus, are compensated with a $100 stipend for their work. They also have the possibility of weekly merit award prizes as an incentive for their hard work. The weekly merit awards serve as a life lesson for our young mentors, that when you work hard your work will pay off.

Once a mentor turn fourteen, they transition to an hourly wage. The amount of responsibility and empowerment that lies in a bi-weekly paycheck for fourteen to eighteen year olds is tremendous. They receive a chance to see what it is like to save, spend, and most importantly, have their own money. Being exposed to money at such a young age awards teenagers with the opportunity to make purchases on their own and know the amazing feeling that is personal ownership. This exposure will also help young adults be smarter with money, an important aspect of life that isn’t taught in traditional education settings.

After all is said and done, mentors leave PMP’s program with a skill set that will follow them throughout their schooling and prepare them to be college and career ready. Mentors develop a professional personality that encourages good communication, leadership, and problem solving skills-- all traits that will help them not only succeed in their future positions, but thrive and stand out amongst their competitors. Also, while the summer program is heavily based on PMP’s scholars and their academic growth, mentors receive assistance in college readiness, SHSAT and SAT prep, and effective guidance from current college students.

PMP’s aim to end youth unemployment extends further than to provide youth with money to buy candy at a their local bodega or buy video games for entertainment.  PMP’s mentors leave their summer positions ready to take on the following school year and the professional world. They work even harder in school because, now, they have scholars that are looking up to them to be the absolute best. They feel independent and confident with their hard earned money in their pocket. And, most importantly, they feel prepared for the future because they, too, have now had their first paying job. And that job with PMP will be one that will help them begin the journey towards a successful college and career experience.