Evelyn K. Davis Center Summer Program Aims to Help Low-Income Youth Find Careers

DES MOINES, Iowa -- Even though school is out for the summer, there's one group of students who are continuing their education. 

Fifty students from Des Moines Public High Schools are taking part in the 7th annual Summer Youth Experience Program.

“Make sure it’s fun. Enjoy it, be weird,” said Dr. John Douglas of the Evelyn K. Davis Center.

What they are doing looks more like a play than skills training, but these kids are learning about the importance of workplace delegation.  

“It was all of us just trying to have control over everything. Too many people just trying to do one thing at time,” said Emaginee Lee-Cain, 17, a Lincoln High School student. 

Emaginee is one of just 50 students to be selected for the Summer Youth Experience Program. The program is run by the Evelyn K. Davis Center and targets low-income youth, providing valuable job training to kids who desperately need it. 

“They lose faith real quick because a lot of employers don’t take chances on these kids,” said Lenny Bell, who works with the youth program. 

Bell is in charge of getting these kids ready to work. He says of the many challenges the kids will face, the lack of soft job skills hurts them most. Many of them haven’t spent time in an office or white-collar setting like their suburban peers, and that is where they start. 

“For those that are now just starting, pretty sure they don’t know really anything, they might, but not as much,” said Lee-Cain.

“We can add to the pie or the puzzle, so to speak. I don’t think we are the solution, I just think we are part of it,” said Bell.

For the first two weeks, the students go over resumes and interviews. Then experts come in and teach them how to be successful in an office setting. Adjusting to norms and cultures. For the remainder of the next eight weeks, they get to work, heading to internships at Broadlawns, Goodwill, Nationwide, and even the DNR.

It’s a successful program that has landed dozens of kids in college and many more into lasting careers. Even with all of this success, though, Lenny is still disappointed.

“Over the years we’ve turned down thousands of kids and it hurts because you don’t want to turn down any kids,” said Bell.  

The program is expensive--costing about $2,500 per kid for the summer--but Bell says it's worth every penny if it means giving low-income kids like Emagine a shot at a career. 

“Low-income kids don’t get all the same opportunities. We know this, it’s nothing new under the sun. However, I think we are in a unique position here in our city where we can address tough issues,” said Bell.

If you’d like to help these kids, they are holding a mardi-gras themed benefit at the World Food Prize on Friday.