At 15 years old, Gabriela Santos has her career plan all figured out.
A sophomore at A.I. Prince Technical High School in Hartford, Santos said she had an interest in graphic design when she entered the graphics technology trade. When she explored it first-hand working at Exclusive Linez, she said that’s when it all clicked.
“I had my mind set on graphics, and doing this job has made me so much more open to wanting to be a graphic designer when I’m older,” said Santos. “It’s impacted me so much that my mind’s set.”
Santos was able to work for Exclusive Linez through Community Renewal Team’s summer employment program for Hartford youth. Although the employment period was only five weeks, she said she has gained lasting experience in designing and creating T-shirts, banners and more.
Santos and Tatiana Rodriguez, another CRT summer youth employment participant, quickly made a strong impression on Exclusive Linez owner Rodney Matthews.
“I usually start these interns off with minimal tasks and duties,” Matthews said. “But they were actually operating machines. They took an interest outside [of the shop], watching YouTube videos on how to run the machines and do things, and they next day they were ready to go.”
CRT’s summer employment program included a job fair this year, allowing companies and agencies to interview and select prospective candidates. Matthews said the screening process helped him find students who were a good match for his business this summer.
Santos and Rodriguez were two of many Hartford youth able to spend their summer productively through city-wide employment. Participants were able to earn summer jobs through Capitol Workforce Partners, which disseminates opportunities to agencies across the city; or get year-round job training and work experience with the city of Hartford’s Youth Service Job Corps.
Capitol Workforce placed over 600 Hartford youth in summer employment roles in lieu of a state budget, where some of its funding has come from in the past, according to Chief Strategy Officer Jim Boucher. The summer employment program was available to Hartford youth this summer due to funding from the city and the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, Boucher said.
CRT Vice President of Housing and Community Services Chris McCluskey said the organization placed 97 high school-aged Hartford residents in summer employment roles, down from its original allotment of 126 students, also due to the lack of a state budget earlier in the year.
Hartford’s Youth Service Corps has about 300 youth employees this year, and its funding comes from the private sector, according to Hartford’s Department of Families, Children, Youth and Recreation Director Kim Oliver.
The program was designed for young people in the city “who are most in need” in terms of income level, have a criminal record or other debilitating factors to gain and job training employment experience, Oliver said. Amid a bevy of programs for more successful Hartford youth, there wasn’t one that served this demographic before the Youth Service Corps was established, she said.
After spending years in and out of jail, the Youth Service Corps was an opportunity for Ravon Dow, 23, to get back on his feet.
Originally from New Britain, Dow said his stints in jail were in part due to associating with the wrong people. He eventually began to focus on a more positive lifestyle to take care of his son, Dow said, but it would be much harder – but not impossible – to get a job after being incarcerated multiple times.
“I feel like when people first come out of jail, they feel like they have no opportunities,” said Dow. “If you really want to work, you’re going to work. You’re going to look for work, and you’re going to get hired.”
Through Hartford’s Youth Service Corps program, Dow has been able to work hands-on with a local boat shop through Our Piece of the Pie, an urban youth development organization.
Meanwhile, for Tacoya Jiles, 23, her struggles in school combined with a lack of support made getting an education and keeping a steady job seemingly insurmountable tasks.
Also working with Our Piece of the Pie through Youth Service Corps, she looks to be the role model for children that she didn’t have growing up.
“They look up to me. They remind me of when I was little, especially the ones that act up,” Jiles said.
Jiles said she plans to earn her GED in the near future as she continues with the employment program and continue to work with children afterward.
For both Dow and Jiles, like many of the Youth Service Corps members, giving back to Hartford is a focus in their employment, which Oliver said is a key part of the program.
“Many times, when we do our measurements of progress, we’re always talking about our young people, and there’s also this benefit to the community at large,” said Oliver. “How is Hartford better off? … We’ve had a lot of our partners saying this has been fantastic for them.”
Dow said he wants to further his education and eventually go into architecture. He said his mindset is different since being released from jail and his past is behind him.
“I’m not the same knucklehead I was years ago. Going to jail, being there alone mentally, physically, it changes you,” Dow said. “I just got my mind right, and I came home with a good head on my shoulders … a lot of ambition and I’m ready to succeed in life.”