In 2015, Bishop Reginald Saffo, chairman of the Proviso Township Ministerial Alliance Network (PTMAN) and pastor of United Faith M.B. Church in Maywood, saw that many of the youth in Proviso Township lacked direction in life and were even getting into crime.
Feeling called to respond, he turned not to government but to the churches, and the Summer Youth Initiative was born. He appointed Rev. Albert Johnson, PTMAN board member, and a team of five church members to coordinate the program, which is also known as 4+4 4.
The mission of the initiative is “to keep our youth active while helping them to develop a good work ethic, enhance their skills for future employment aspirations, and acquire money management skills.”
To accomplish that mission, businesses commit to taking on a youth intern between 13 and 17 years old, who gets four weeks of experience working four hours a day, four days a week: 4 4 4. Businesses can become involved by being a host site, sponsoring a young person at $128/week, or doing both.
Some of the businesses serving as host sites last year were the Maywood Police Department, Triton College, Geek Repairs in Hillside, True Value Hardware in Broadview, and the Bellwood Public Library.
Host sites are not expected to pay their interns a salary.
“This is an internship, not a summer job,” Johnson emphasized. PTMAN does, however, pay the interns an $8/hour stipend.
When Rev. Johnson presented the program to the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors on Jan. 9, Eric Fjelstad, senior vice president and chief lending officer at Forest Park National Bank, was impressed enough to share the program with Don Offermann, another senior vice president at the bank who oversees charitable contributions.
What impressed Offermann was the initiative’s emphasis on youth, which dovetailed nicely with the bank’s focus on children in its charitable work. He also agreed with turning to the churches instead of government for funding.
“Bishop Saffo wanted to challenge the church to create the initiative,” Rev. Johnson explained. “We believe in a God who is creative, and if we are made in God’s image, then we, the church, need to create something.”
In an interview with the Village Free Press in 2017, Saffo said “he wanted to demonstrate that local institutions, particularly churches, could drive the local economy in their own ways, independent of government funding.”
Offermann found the details of the program had been worked out in a professional manner. Students applying to participate as interns must have recommendations and then sign a code of conduct, which includes being well groomed, on time, and respectful of superiors. Each site supervisor also receives a detailed manual outlining what is expected of them.
What also convinced Offermann to be the program’s first partner was the initiative’s track record. In its first year, 2016, 10 students, 30 sponsors and 10 hosting sites participated. In 2017, the number of students increased to 20, and the following year 30 youth were involved. The number of sponsors and businesses committing to be host sites followed suit.
The DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church was so taken with the Summer Youth Initiative, they implemented the same kind of program last year in Naperville.
Forest Park National Bank has been committed for many years to having two students from Christ the King High School on the West Side of Chicago work as interns one day a week for the whole school year and has paid the entire year’s tuition of $15,000 for each student.
“Almost all of them have been terrific kids,” Offermann said. “They come from tough life situations and become productive for us. They start out doing work like folding letters and stuffing envelopes and copying documents, but we always try to upgrade the work they do for us when they are ready. We have one young man whom we will soon promote to being a teller while he is still in high school.”
Offermann noted that when he and bank President Dan Watts became familiar with PTMAN’s initiative, they concluded, “This is something a community bank should take a close look at. These are the kinds of things we should support.”
The bank decided to begin its involvement by “dipping its toe in the water,” issuing a check to PTMAN for $256 and committing to be a host site for the first two of the four weeks this summer with the strong possibility of extending their commitment to the last half of the program.
Bishop Saffo, Rev. Johnson and the Summer Youth Initiative team dream about extending the program to more than four weeks to increase its impact on the young people. Another dream is to get big corporations involved.
Offermann is on the same page as PTMAN. Because residents entrust their money to them, they have a good faith responsibility to invest in the community. He acknowledged that he might get more productivity out of a full-time employee but “that calculus is not always what we are after.” Kids need work experience, but they also need a basic sense of dignity, which intern experience can often provide.
Saffo said he hopes “the program can help teenagers find what it is that fulfills them and gives them purpose.”
If you want more information or would like to participate in 4 4 4, call Rev. Johnson at 708-369-0681.