Youth Employment Programs Show Successes, Receive Added Fund Support


In urban communities and rural communities, many young people find themselves at a disadvantage when it comes to finding employment. They may lack adequate education and training. They may not know how to connect with the job market, or how to present themselves to prospective employers. They may not understand the self-discipline required to obtain, and retain, a good job.

In two Florida communities — urban Jacksonville and rural Port St. Joe — the Jessie Ball duPont Fund has been instrumental in developing programs that help youth overcome these and other obstacles to employment. At their February meeting, the Fund’s trustees committed more than $980,000 to continue support of these programs.


In Jacksonville, the JAX JOBS program is an outgrowth of a decade-old program that began at Baptist Medical Center. In the late 1990s, the hospital partnered with a community nonprofit to bring disadvantaged youth into the hospital for mentoring, summer employment and academic and career counseling. Through the years, the Jessie Ball duPont Fund invested more than $440,000 in the program, eventually helping the hospital build an endowment to sustain it.

Impressed by the results of that program, the Fund explored the idea of broadening the model to other community organizations and local businesses. In summer 2012, with United Way of Northeast Florida providing leadership, the Fund launched JAX JOBS, placing 83 youth in summer jobs with an array of for-profit and nonprofit employers.

JAX JOBS requires “pre-work” for both youth and potential employers to prepare them for the work experience. For youth, the preparation involves a six-week training program in basic job skills and related topics. Employers, meanwhile, must develop job descriptions, assign projects for the youth to complete, and assign and orient coaches for each youth employee.

Based on the positive experiences of both youth and employers in the first year, the Jessie Ball duPont Fund awarded $413,756 to United Way to continue and grow the program for the next two years, providing summer employment to 90-100 youth each year in targeted growth industries in Jacksonville.

“Our goal is to establish a robust youth employment system that meets the needs of young people, incorporates best practices from other communities, has business support, maximizes local resources is sustainable, and connects with other local efforts,” said Connie Hodges, president of United Way of Northeast Florida.

The Ladder

In rural Port St. Joe, Florida, The Ladder, operated by Gulf Coast Workforce Development Board, Inc., helps disconnected young people transition from their post-high school aimlessness into planned, productive adulthood.

The program targets youth, ages 18-25, who have “failed to launch.” “On any given weekday, you can see these young people hanging out on the streets of North Port St. Joe; going nowhere and with no plans for doing anything,” said Kimberly Bodine, executive director of the Workforce Board.

The Ladder began in fall 2011, providing participants Dale Carnegie, Employability Skills, Financial Literacy and Life Management training. Workforce quickly discovered that the youth’s needs were much deeper and more profound than first imagined, and they required much more time to develop the self-discipline and skills needed to be successfully employed. Despite the challenges, two-thirds of the participants found jobs and are still employed.

To extend and modify the program, the trustees awarded Gulf Coast Workforce Development Board $210,372 over three years to support 12 youth each year. The program will be expanded to 12 weeks, the structure modified to create a more “staged” approach, and additional resources added to provide personal counseling for the participants.

“We have had such a warm welcome from everyone in the North Port St. Joe community,” Bodine said. “We are making advancements with the young adults served through this program in Gulf County, and feel we are in a good place to expand the program.”

Port St. Joe Summer Internships

As part of a comprehensive program of summer activities for children and youth Gulf Coast Workforce Development Board Inc., has developed a summer internship program for youth 18-21, providing work experience for 20 young people.

Participants work in the private or public sector, and receive work-related training, such as computer skills, behavior and presentation skills and financial management. Past interns have been placed with the City of Port St. Joe, Gulf County Board of County Commissioners, the Humane Society and The Bridge at Bay St. Joseph Nursing Home. In some cases, the internships have evolved into permanent employment and extended career education.

The trustees awarded Gulf Coast Workforce $357,072 to continue the comprehensive summer program, including the internship component, for three years. Gulf Coast anticipates providing 20 eight-week paid internships each summer.

“Together, these programs are making an important difference in the lives of these young people,” said Katie Ensign, senior program officer for the Jessie Ball duPont Fund. “But just as importantly, they are demonstrating to the community — to nonprofits and businesses and city leaders — how they can be successful at improving the odds for disadvantaged youth through thoughtful programs, cross-sector collaborations and relatively modest investments.”