Columbia residents, city representatives and employment program sponsors discussed how to create more jobs for First Ward youths during a town hall meeting organized by First Ward Councilwoman Almeta Crayton on Tuesday night.
“We want to find something for our kids to do this summer,” Crayton said. “The violence picks up when you do not have something for them to do.”
She also said children are much more likely to go “toe to toe” with police officers during summer vacation when they have nothing productive to do.
Crayton sponsored a town hall meeting April 26 at which First Ward residents said police officers unfairly arrested children from the area. The tone of Tuesday’s meeting, however, was much less complaint-oriented.
Gary Ristow, recreational services manager of the Columbia Parks and Recreation Department, said Columbia’s Career Awareness Related Experience program was slated to assist 155 out of 360 14- to 18-year-olds this summer. The program focuses on applicants who have had trouble in school and who have had a “scrape or two with the law.”
But Rhonda Garland, president of the nonprofit program Joyous Journey said that she wanted jobs to be found for applicants who were not accepted by CARE.
“We need jobs now, not next year,” she said.
John Clark, president of the North Central Columbia Neighborhood Association, said residents and city officials need to go door-to-door to businesses and ask them to make job openings for youths who need them.
“We’ve never gone one-on-one with businesses,” he said. “We need to ask them for this.”
He said businesses would be responsive if people would ask them to make space for children who need jobs.
By the end of the meeting, several people vowed to call Columbia businesses and ask that job opportunities be made available to youths.
Peggy Kirkpatrick, executive director of the Central Missouri Food Bank, said she would ask Missouri rotary clubs for assistance.
Ristow said he would provide space in the CARE program for more youths if more funds could be raised from the community.
“We need to get the money from somewhere,” Crayton said.