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Asheville (NC) Mayor Bellamy’s Youth Leadership Academy Engages Teens in Civic-Minded Summer Jobs

August 13, 2007

The City of Asheville Youth Leadership Academy (CAYLA), an integral part of Asheville (NC) Mayor Terry Bellamy’s “Grow Your Own” initiative, provides students with civic-minded summer work experience while empowering them to take an active part in financing their post'secondary education. CAYLA is offered through the city in collaboration with the Asheville City Schools Foundation.

CAYLA recruits, trains and places local high school students at meaningful summer jobs with the city and other participating agencies. In addition, the program provides students weekly workshops on topics such as financial literacy, leadership, community service and college preparation. CAYLA will continue to engage students throughout the school year by offering career-focused enrichment activities as well as community service events. Taking place after school or on the weekend, the projects will involve the students’ mentors from their summer job placements, allowing them to maintain and strengthen these adult contacts. In addition, the service events will foster a sense of unity among the students and connect them to the community at large.

Twenty students are selected by a committee of local education and nonprofit leaders who have expressed an interest not only in attending college but also in pursuing public service-related careers. Each student is required to submit an application and at least two written recommendations to the committee and attend an in-person interview.

Asheville pays the students approximately $7.00 an hour. Upon successful completion of the year-long program, they are each awarded $2,000 for a 529 College Savings Fund set up in their name.

The city is committed to giving Asheville’s young people the opportunity to stay and work in Asheville, as well as to have valuable work experiences that will advance their future careers wherever they go. The inaugural CAYLA class was selected in May 2007, with internships beginning in June.

Program Effectiveness

At the conclusion of the 8-week summer internship program, CAYLA will disseminate surveys to all participants (students as well as the 20 job site supervisors) asking for their feedback and suggestions. Student participants also submit letters, addressed to the mayor and city council members, describing their experiences in the program. Site supervisors are also encouraged to write recommendation letters on behalf of their student interns. These letters are given to the students and kept on file with the city. Contact information for the 2007-2008 class will also be kept on file so that efforts can be made to track the successes and achievements of CAYLA alumni in years to come.

Program Financing

For CAYLA’s initial year, Asheville committed $100,000 from its general fund to support the program.

Other City Agencies Involved

CAYLA students are placed at summer internships with the following city departments: Information Services, Public Works (Streets, Sanitation and Fleet Divisions), Water Resources, Building Safety and the Police Department. Students also work with Asheville-Buncombe Technical College Daycare, the Asheville City Schools Preschool, the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce, the Asheville Citizen-Times (the area’s local newspaper), the Asheville Office of the Public Defender, the University of North Carolina at Asheville (UNCA), the YMI Cultural Center, Youthful HAND Daycare, and the West Riverside Weed and Seed program.

Weekly workshops for the students have featured speakers/presenters from the following agencies/organizations: College Foundation of North Carolina (CFNC), Consumer Credit Counseling Service of WNC, Junior Achievement, MANNA FoodBank, the Mediation Center, RiverLink, UNCA Leadership Asheville, UNCA Outdoor Education (low-ropes course), and the UNCA Admissions Department.

Major Lessons Learned

Participating job sites/supervisors must have a clear understanding of what is expected of them as employers and be given clear guidelines on appropriate assignments for the students. CAYLA is designed so that all job placements involve CAYLA’s students in meaningful, substantive projects, and will expose the youth to new college and/or career options.

Drawing from research findings of effective youth development programs nationwide, CAYLA emphasizes sustained adult contact and support for achievement. Studies have shown that it is critically important that young people feel successful as they participate in a program and develop as individuals.

Students must also be (frequently) reminded of what is expected of them as participants in CAYLA. They are asked to sign a “memorandum of understanding” that addresses topics like attendance, active participation, and appropriate behavior on the job and at the weekly workshops. Throughout the program, the overarching messages are 1) that they will be held accountable for their performance, 2) that they will receive positive as well as constructive feedback, and 3) that they are entitled to suggestions, help and support.

Specific Advice for Mayors

A Youth Leadership Academy should be coordinated by a full-time staff member who can dedicate him/herself to the various demands of managing an initiative of this scope. The coordinator serves as liaison between students, parents, job site supervisors and community. He/She acts as a human resources professional, and must be on call to troubleshoot any work-related issues that arise throughout the summer. Just as importantly, he/she is also a mentor and academic advisor, and must be comfortable interacting with youth and highly supportive of their educational pursuits. Experience in program management/administration and community organizing strongly encouraged.