Sep 25, 2014
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Eight of 15 Richmond youth who were placed at T.J.Maxx in Pinole this past summer as part of the local Summer Youth Entrepreneur Program (SYEP) were hired for jobs.

“The store hired them to work the back-to-school and holiday rush,” said Jay Leonhardy, a program manager with the city of Richmond’s YouthWORKS, which manages SYEP.

The youth program, which offers two weeks worth of invaluable career training, was so successful at T.J.Maxx that the retailer has expressed interest in an ongoing partnership with the city and possible expansion beyond summer, said Amanda Elliott, the executive director of the Richmond Main Street Initiative (RMSI).

“The youth were excited to be placed at T.J.Maxx because having customer service experience serves as a necessary skillset for future opportunities,” said program coordinator Vaneese Johnson. “Some youth went on, after the program ended, to be hired at retailers in Hilltop Mall and food service businesses partially because they now have retail experience on their resume.”

Since 2008, RMSI has partnered with the YouthWORKS on SYEP.  The decade-old career-training program, largely sponsored by the city and Chevron Richmond, is said to be one of the best program’s of its kind in the state. SYEP offers Richmond youth between ages 15 and 21 with up to 100 hours of career training through work experience during the summer, along with some income.

As part of the program, RMSI offers young people storefront, small business and retail training connections, such as new program partner T.J.Maxx.

For two weeks, RMSI trained the 15 young people before they went to the T.J.Maxx store in Pinole. During the first week, the youth received work-readiness training, team building assignments and communications skills building, among other skills training. The second week provided entrepreneur training in which students identified and developed business opportunities in the local community.

One business idea from this past summer was a companionship and care service provider for seniors. Another was a utility-supported business helping community members learn energy and water conservation tactics.

After completing the training, the 15 youth received hands-on work experience at T.J.Maxx, with their tenure there ending in August.

Overall, 233 young people participated in SYEP this summer, with 83 percent of them coming from households earning less than $30,000 a year. They went to 51 worksites comprising of 37 employers, not just local businesses like T.J. Maxx but also agencies and nonprofits.

BART, the city of Richmond’s Planning Department, Milo Foundation and the West Contra Costa Unified School District were among the places hosting SYEP participants.


About the Author

Mike Aldax is the editor of the Richmond Standard. He has 13 years of journalism experience, most recently as a reporter for the San Francisco Examiner. He previously held roles as reporter and editor at Bay City News, Napa Valley Register, Garden Island Newspaper in Kaua’i, and the Queens Courier in New York City.