New York — Yolanda Harrell has a lot of spunk.
Unlike some of her friends growing up with her in the rubble-strewn South Bronx, one of America's worst slums, she didn't drop out of school at 16. In fact, just last week she graduated from high school and has plans for college.
But she would have had little hope of college or a meaningful career if she hadn't been a part of the ''Partnership'' last summer.
The New York City Partnership Summer Jobs for Youth Campaign, a nonprofit group of more than 100 business and community leaders, is finding summer jobs for poor youth at a time when the federal government is turning to the private sector for help with the youth unemployment problem. Yolanda, making $3.54 an hour for 35 hours a week as a clerk in the investment library of Citibank here, is only one of some 17,000 youngsters who will find summer jobs - and perhaps a brighter future - thanks to Partnership.
Last year when Partnership's program began, it helped place 9,200 youths between the ages of 14 and 21 in jobs in the private sector. This year, with more experience and additional volunteers, Partnership hopes to place at least 50 percent more youths in jobs ranging from fast-food countermen and file clerks to camp counselors.
Many minority groups are skeptical of the private sector's willingness and ability to pick up the slack from Reagan administration cuts in the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act - especially in the summer jobs programs. But the National Urban League and other groups have applauded Partnership's efforts here.
Certainly, the effort by these businesses is more than just altruistic, as William I. Spencer, president of Citibank, the company spearheading Partnership's summer job drive this year, readily states. Rather, as Partnership's advertising slogan says, ''Jobs for youths is good for business.''
''Citibank has been in business since 1812, and we would like to enjoy at least another 170 years of the same kind of success,'' Mr. Spencer says. ''But we know that this will not be possible unless we make an investment of our own in the future of our city, and particularly in its young people.''
This September, provided the Summer Jobs for Youth Campaign is as successful as expected, a campaign to enlist the help of the entire New York City business community to solve soaring youth unemployment year-round will be launched.
Because this program is aimed at only youths from lower-income families, youths from families earning incomes above what the federal government now calls the ''lower living income standard'' cannot qualify. For example, a child coming from a family of four earning more than $14,390 is ineligible.
The jobs are mostly ''entry level'' and are for 20 hours a week and more and last for seven or eight weeks, mostly beginning after the Fourth of July. No one earns less than the federal minimum wage of $3.35 an hour and 40 percent are expected to earn above the minimum wage.
The program has no paid staff - in the usual sense. The time the executives put in at the organization's headquarters is all being donated by private companies. Citibank has also donated the office. Some expensive computer equipment, which enables volunteers to more easily match job preferences with the availability of jobs, is also on loan.
Moreover, young people like Yolanda who have done excellent work for companies last summer, not only have the opportunity to earn more this summer, but retain these same jobs or better ones on a part-time basis when the school year rolls around. In fact, Yolanda's company plans to do more than offer her a part-time job this September: The firm is also helping to pay some of her college tuition.
However, not everything is running as smoothly as some executives envisioned.
Unfortunately, hundreds of jobs that are available are not being filled because young people don't want to take them, according to George Seegers, the executive on loan from Citbank who is coordinating the campaign. Jobs available at camps in the Catskills or other resort areas are, ironically, the hardest to fill, he says, because many kids don't want to be away from New York. Some fast-food jobs are hard to ''sell,'' he adds, because many say they are demeaning.