Teen activists meet elected officials over jobs, budget concerns

Somerville News

On May 12, 2011, in Latest News, by The News Staff

By Andrew Firestone

Youth activists of Somerville were called upon to discuss budgetary concerns this last Friday, May 6, when Mayor Joseph Curtatone and the Statehouse delegation of Somerville dropped by Teen Empowerment’s East Somerville headquarters.

Members of Teen Empowerment and the Groundwork Somerville green team spoke for over an hour with state Senators Pat Jehlen and Sal DiDomenico, as well as state Representatives Denise Provost and Tim Toomey, and requested more funding for teen jobs in an event organized by Marlon Remdehal, director of Somerville programs for TE, and Adam Machson Carter, GS green team coordinator.

“Will you commit to putting full funding for the YouthWorks [line program] at $4.4 million in the Senate budget?” asked Melinda Petit of Teen Empowerment to Jehlen and DiDomenico. The House budget could only appropriate half of the requested funds.

“Funding for youth jobs is one of my priorities,” said DiDomenico, “so I know how important youth jobs are, my first job was a youth job. It’s important for us support the cities and towns that do good work in youth jobs.”

“I don’t know what will happen in the Senate budget,” said Jehlen. “It’s very difficult for me to commit to almost anything at this point,” she added, noting the severe budget drops in funding for public safety and higher education.

“The main thing that makes me want to support this is that I don’t support any act that doesn’t include support for revenue,” she said, noting the “level funding” approach to the bill. “I’ll give it every consideration.”

The youth activists also asked for support in house conference for the School to Career line item, which gives an additional $2 million in job support.

Much of the discussion among the group focused on the need for jobs in shaping the lives and responsibilities of young people coming of age. “If kids don’t have a job or something constructive to do with their time they get  bored and wind up getting into mischief and lots of trouble,” said Cullen Cicero a youth activist at TE.

“They find alternatives in the streets, whether it’s like drugs or gangs or robbing people for money, whatever they need to make it so they can feel better about themselves, look good, have food to eat,” added Terrence Bordenave, also of TE.

“Your first job is really what teaches you that you have to work for everything you have, every single cent,” said Bordenave. “If people don’t get that reality check, they go through life with the wrong mindset, and they probably won’t make it through high school or college.”

Curtatone, who pledged $100,000 for youth jobs over the summer, supported the sentiment. “It’s good policy. It’s good social policy; it’s good economic policy. We all talk about how we want to give our people the best opportunities, we don’t want them just hanging out in the street, causing mischief.” Curtatone also explained his point-of-view that it was increasingly important to provide services to encourage youth, even against a failing budget.

To Toomey, who was candid with the young people, it was a no-brainer. “It’s always been a priority of mine when I meet with my colleagues on the Ways and Means Committee to advocate, to drive home the point of how [joblessness] impacts young peoples’ lives, and how they are going to be the future, well-paid and contributing to our tax base, if they’re trained for their job,” he said.

The discussion was heartening for the young activists, who were impressed at the pragmatic and engaging candor of the state legislators. “Even though we’re all different age ranges, we all have similar ideas,” said Cicero.

Perry Gerald of East Somerville was especially surprised at the tenor of the discussion. “I did not know that they care they much,” he said. “We need to care as much for them as they will for us, otherwise we won’t go nowhere.”

The Senate’s budget concerns were alleviated on Tuesday, May 10, when Governor Deval Patrick pledged the full amount of 4.4 million for the YouthWorks line item, as well as an additional 2 million in federal grants for youth jobs across the state. The money will fund approximately 3,000 jobs or more statewide this summer.