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Opening Doors Come Summer

Citywide partnership helps teens find work and build a future

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More than 100 teen workers, in bright yellow “MLK Summer Scholar” shirts, showed up to a rally at the GSU last week. Photos by Kalman Zabarsky

Touting an increase in job opportunities for local teenagers, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino (Hon.’01) joined BU President Robert A. Brown and other civic leaders Wednesday in kicking off the second year of an expanded collaboration to prepare Boston’s teens for the workforce.

At a rally held at the George Sherman Union on July 8, John DesPrez, chairman and CEO of John Hancock, P. Steven Ainsley, publisher of the Boston Globe, and Ed Davis, Boston police commissioner, also welcomed the more than 100 teen workers who showed up in bright yellow “MLK Summer Scholar” shirts.

The event had been scheduled for Marsh Plaza, site of the Free at Last sculpture, dedicated to Martin Luther King, Jr. (GRS’59, Hon.’59), but inclement weather forced a change of venue. The jobs program, an outgrowth of the Boston Globe Foundation’s Opportunity for Unity initiative and John Hancock’s Summer of Opportunity program, changed its name this year from Boston Summer Scholars to MLK Summer Scholars in honor of the University’s most renowned graduate.

“Dr. King once said all labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence,” Brown told the students. “He also advised us that whatever your life’s work is, do it well.”

John Hancock began working with the Boston police department 16 years ago to create summer jobs. It later joined forces with the Globe, which had launched a similar program in its neighborhood. Today, the partnership is the largest corporate supporter of summer jobs in the city, providing 600 jobs to Boston teens this summer, a 20 percent increase over last year

Heeding a call from Menino (below) to expand summer employment opportunities, John Hancock, the Globe, and the University racheted up efforts. Hancock is kicking in more than $1 million, the Globe is contributing organizational support and in-kind services, and the University is providing the educational setting and work-related resources. This year, Partners HealthCare also joined the partnership, offering positions to students and joining 80 participating businesses, including John Hancock, the Globe, and the University.

Every Friday, the student workers also meet on the BU campus for life skills workshops, where speakers help them address issues related to personal finance, communication, interviewing, and leadership skills.

Sabrina Xavier, a senior at Brighton High School, will spend her second summer working at John Hancock. She recalled last year’s experience in a piece in Wednesday’s Boston Globe.

“Coming to work in a prestigious building was new for me,” she wrote. “I had to dress professionally, wearing skirts instead of jeans, and figure out how to walk in heels, not sneakers. I had to learn how to communicate without using street slang, saying ‘because’ instead of ‘cuz,’ for example. I picked up these techniques during the life-skills workshops at Boston University, where you learned everything from how to do an interview — arrive five minutes early! — to how to budget your money.

“The Scholars program gave me an opportunity to spend my summer doing something productive — instead of staying home and watching TV. Without this job I wouldn’t know where I would be today.”

“The jobs we have as teenagers are really important to us in our careers going forward,” Brown told the teens. “They teach us about work, they teach us about ourselves. Some of the jobs you will have will excite you. They will open up pathways for you about what you want to do after you graduate from high school. Others will show you exactly what you don’t want to do going forward. I can tell you from my individual experiences, both are invaluable lessons.”

“This program is about today,” Ainsley said. “But make no mistake, it is also about tomorrow.”

Menino then took the podium.

“This summer program they’ve put together creates an opportunity that most of you would never have, the opportunity to grow, to learn, to develop relationships, and to continue your education through the summertime,” he said to the students. “The economy’s bad. We know it’s bad. There are 100 more summer jobs this year than last. We’re trying to work with you to ensure that you all have a brighter future.”

Menino referred to his upbringing on Hyde Park Avenue, hardly a world of privilege, a background similar to “yous.”

“It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, what language your parents speak,” he said. “You don’t have to be on the honor roll. Just be a person who works hard every day. You will succeed if you stay focused and make the right decisions.”

Caleb Daniloff can be reached at cdanilof@bu.edu.

1 Comments

One Comment on Opening Doors Come Summer

  • Anonymous on 07.13.2009 at 12:55 pm

    How awesome! It would be great if BU could do something similar for those of us in BU’s undergraduate program.

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