Since Mayor George Heartwell founded it in 2010, the City of Grand Rapids’ Leadership and Employment, Achievement and Direction (LEAD) program has trained youth in civic engagement, leadership, and employment skills. In 2013, President Obama recognized the program as a national model for mayoral leadership in youth employment. Managed by Our Community’s Children, a public-private partnership among the City of Grand Rapids, Grand Rapids Public Schools, and community partners, LEAD is free and open to residents ages 15 to 24 and those attending college in the greater Grand Rapids area.
Grant funds from the WK Kellogg Foundation will provide participating youth from specific southeast, southwest, and northwest Grand Rapids neighborhoods who successfully complete the program with an $800 stipend. From May 1 through 15, the first of two cohorts will target youth at the upper end of the age spectrum, ages 18 through 24.
“We found that in focus groups with other projects that we facilitated, students were saying, ‘After we go through high school, there’s no go-to person anymore, no principal, counselor, or teacher. We’re out there on our own,’” says Shannon Harris, Our Community’s Children program coordinator.
The LEAD program originally targeted high-school-age youth. In 2015, organizers decided to include 18 to 24 year-olds. While college students are accepted into the program, the hope is that older youth facing challenges with completing school or finding a job will enroll and move their lives forward.
“We accept students that have a past. We accept students that haven’t graduated from high school. We accept students that haven’t had any work experience at all. Those are really the students we want to be part of the program,” Harris says. “We think this is a great age group because they are able to make their own decisions in life. We just want to help them along the way whether to college, getting a job, or getting an internship.”
LEAD topics include financial literacy, dressing for success, mock interviews, and writing resumes and cover letters. Activities include acting lessons with actor Sammy A. Publes (The Chi, 2018; Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, 2016; and Empire, 2015) and field trips to local businesses and colleges.
After graduating from the LEAD program, youth can earn a job making $10 to $13 an hour at a Mayor’s 100 Business. Some will go to work for firms associated with City government—public relations, engineering, or with a law firm. Others will hone their skills at other local small businesses.
“The young people who go through this program really learn about themselves, their community, the nation, and worldwide,” Harris says. “How we do that is through a few assessments. One, we use the DISC assessment …This really helps them with identifying and validating who they are.”
Apply today or tomorrow!
Open to youth ages 15 through 24, a second LEAD cohort takes place June 11 through 26. Meeting from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at City Hall, both sessions offer the $800 stipend to youth residents of Grand Rapids’ Neighborhoods of Focus. The program provides parking, bike racks, and bus passes. Youth who want to attend the May cohort must register by end of business day April 27. They can register online or contact Harris at 616.456.3558 or [email protected].
“This will be our 13th and 14th cohort this year. We are looking for students that want an opportunity to learn a variety of things but, at the end, also get meaningful employment—and it’s a lot of fun,” Harris concludes. “It’s really about introducing them to the possibilities and uplifting their talents and abilities.”
Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy Leadership and Employment, Achievement and Direction (LEAD) program