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Rochester teens hoping for a bright future are enrolling in a summer jobs program

Javier Torres fills tote bags in preparation for the grand opening of Ibero American Action League's community resource center.
Noelle E. C. Evans
/
WXXI News
Javier Torres fills tote bags in preparation for the grand opening of Ibero American Action League's community resource center.

Javier Torres fills tote bags with hand sanitizer, pens, and face masks at Ibero American Action League. He’s getting ready for the grand opening of the organization’s Community Resource Center on Clifford Avenue.

But this is about more than one event for the 10th-grader.

“I want to become a doctor. So, I am going to be going to college,” Javier said. “I've always been the type of person that wants to help others and make this community a better place. So, I think being here learning how to help others and different perspectives will help my doctoring career.”

His coworkers are preparing for the event, too, making posters, folding brochures, and decorating raffle ticket containers, all under the guidance of their supervisors.

Their work is part of the Youth Summer Employment Program run by RochesterWorks in partnership with the city of Rochester.

One of the goals is to give students a reason to fight for their future, said Antwan Williams, director of youth services at RochesterWorks.

“If you don't see an opportunity for yourself in terms of a career pathway, unfortunately, other things will come up that will cause you to do things that you're not proud of,” Williams said. “So that's one of the things I'm excited about when we're able to connect young adults to employment opportunities. We're giving them something to live for.”

That’s pretty easy for Javier, who already knows what he wants to do after graduating from School Without Walls.

His coworker Arianna Parson is still weighing her options for future plans, but her ambition is clear.

Arianna Parson designs a poster for the grand opening of Ibero American Action League's community resource center.
Noelle E. C. Evans
/
WXXI News
Arianna Parson designs a poster for the grand opening of Ibero American Action League's community resource center.

“It mainly depends on what would happen in the next three years,” Arianna said. “I plan on so far going to a college and maybe a college that has to do with acting. I am thinking about trying out for either Harvard or Juilliard.”

Both students said their family and teachers helped connect them to this summer opportunity, which is the kind of support that Williams said is vital to helping more city students see their own potential.

“Everything starts with a thought, a dream,” Williams said. “We have to do, as a society, ... a better job of cultivating that. Because without that, you go nowhere.”

Program participation took a dive during the first two years of the pandemic. Williams said that’s partly due to fewer available resources – everything from printers to counselors – while students were learning remotely.

Williams said there are now opportunities for more than 500 students from 14 to 20 years old. He said the aim is to double that in the coming years.

And with widespread staff shortages since the start of the pandemic, he said he sees that as a possible gateway to career paths for a younger workforce.

Noelle E. C. Evans is WXXI's Murrow Award-winning Education reporter/producer.