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President Barack Obama has been barnstorming the country. He says the country faces a “national emergency” and has called on Congress to pass his $447 billion jobs bill. The President says the need for jobs is “urgent” and the jobless rate is a “crisis.” Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate has voted to block the President’s jobs bill.

At the Youth Job Center of Evanston, we agree that not only jobs, but good jobs, should be the No. 1 priority. Three years after the financial crisis of 2008, unemployment is simply too high. Unfortunately, our young people struggle with much higher rates of unemployment than their parents ever faced.

The youth unemployment rate stands at 18.4 percent – double the overall rate.  Meanwhile, the jobless rate for African-American youth is 27 percent! And this is two full years after the recession officially ended. Some labor experts say the numbers of unemployed would be even higher except that many teens and young adults have simply given up. Some sit at home, watching TV or surfing the Internet. Others have decided to return to school, in many cases taking on extra debt without the assurance of a job following graduation. 

As Washington finally decides that putting people back to work is a priority, the Youth Job Center has been doing it – and in real time. Last year, the YJC provided counseling, guidance and job placement to 1,425 young people – and not all from Evanston. Some travel as far away as the South Side of Chicago to get help in finding work.

For example, a 23-year-old woman came to the YJC last year, eager to find work. After finding a job, she entered the Women Invested in Learning and Livelihoods (WILL) program, a career development program designed to help our employed YJC clients move up the career ladder. For more than a year, she has been successfully employed at State Farm Insurance and will be completing her bachelor’s degree at DePaul University in May. She is the first person in her family to attend college! The WILL program pairs young workers with mentors from the business community, provides access to resources for post-secondary education and teaches financial literacy skills, including assistance with savings accounts and credit repair.

This young client is just one of our many success stories. While some in Washington are talking about putting Americans back to work, we’re doing it at the YJC every day. With your help, we could do so much more!

Every day, young people come to our agency seeking assistance. Or they find us at the Outpost, which is the YJC’s satellite office at Evanston Township High School.

These young people want to work. They’re not looking for a handout; they are looking for an opportunity. They are eager to put together a resume, learn how to handle that first job interview, don the clothes needed to make a good impression with a prospective employer, and learn how to provide first-rate service as they interact with customers. We help them take all of those steps.

But we offer something more: We believe our young people can and will succeed! We have faith in our young job seekers. We know, first hand, the importance of getting that first job. We stand ready to help them every step of the way. And after they find that job, we check in often with them and their employers: Is everything working out? Are they doing a good job? Do they need help on any of their job skills?

And once they have that first job under their belts, what comes next? What about a career – not just a job? We assist them in looking at associate’s and four-year degree programs or if they need tutoring, we refer them to the right agency and follow up on the referral. We help them find financial aid for school. If they need help with English, we know where to find it. When young single moms need help with childcare, we know whom to call.

So if you want to help pull our nation out of recession – and cut the unemployment rate –get in touch with the Youth Job Center. Go to our website at www.youthjobcenter.org. Make a donation. We guarantee your generosity will go toward putting young people to work. Come to our headquarters at 1114 Church St. and mentor a young person eager to find work. Invest in the future of your community – our young people.