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Marion Barry would probably have been thrilled to hear how one D.C. resident has been helped by the summer jobs program he established.

Sheronda Adams has participated in Mayor Marion S. Barry Summer Youth Employment Program, renamed this year in honor of the late mayor, since she was 14. Now a graduate student at Trinity College, she will work this summer right outside Muriel Bowser’s office with the mayor’s chief of staff.

Adams became eligible for the program this year after Bowser expanded the age range for SYEP participants to 24. The program is designed to help young people who are struggling to find full-time work, like Adams, as well as those who have never worked in an office environment.

“Just from personal experience, coming out of college after a long semester, things can be kind of stressful,” Adams said.

Adams is one of about 1,000 22- to 24-year-olds among this year’s 15,000 total SYEP participants. Bowser touted the expansion at a Monday morning roundtable to kick off this summer’s program.

“We got in our minds that being a young person ends at the age of 21, and in a lot of cases we should and must expect a lot of 21-year-olds. You’re adults,” Bowser said. “What I’ve also learned is that they want to work,” she added. They’re “not lazy, not uncreative… but really in need of some direction and a chance.”

The program pays participants between $5.25 and $9.25 an hour, depending on age, while D.C.’s minimum wage will increase to $10.50 an hour this July. The summer salary will not affect older participants’ benefits, like TANF, plus SYEP will help set up those in need with childcare.

This summer’s program will ultimately serve as a pilot for a permanent expansion to include participants between the ages of 22 and 24. The D.C. Council declined to provide funding for the expansion beyond this summer.

“We have a lot of folks that are interested, which tells us that the demand is there and that young people are looking to work,” said Gerren Price, deputy director of Youth Operations for the Department of Employment Services. The agency posted the hiring announcement on social media and through community listservs on April 6; by the end of the workday, there were already 1,000 applicants.

“What I often see is that less so than folks using it as a crutch, but more so as folks using it as a support system,” Price said. He said his team will individually interview all 1,000 participants to grasp how the program is working and how they can improve it after its first year. Councilmember Vincent Orange, who heads the Council’s Committee on Business, Consumer, and Regulatory Affairs, wants the program to help at least 35 percent of this summer’s older participants find a full-time job.

Robert Holm, director of the IT Academy at McKinley Technology Education Campus, says it can be difficult to convince parents to allow their kids to work for low pay. While working with SYEP through On-Ramps to Careers, a STEM-focused program that partners kids with private sector jobs, Holm recalls when one participant had to give up the opportunity to work at Microsoft to babysit at home. Still, for those who participate, he sees the program as successful.

“If you’re at 22 or 23 and you haven’t had a job, yes, you’re harder to employ and you might’ve developed some bad habits, but this is a good spot to fix it.”

Photo by Darrow Montgomery