IN THE wake of May's Los Angeles riots, cities are beefing up their summer youth programs with increased federal funding and strong community support.
And while the nation's troubled urban centers are always in need of extra resources, this summer inner city kids across the country are participating in a variety of innovative programs, say city officials and social policy experts.
The boost to cities came last month, when Congress appropriated $500 million for summer job programs for inner city youths as part of a $1 billion urban aid package.
The added funding has expanded opportunities for youths all over the country. Washington, D.C., for example, is employing 16,500 young people this summer, nearly twice the number employed last year. New York will provide 32,000 extra summer jobs this year. Los Angeles has 12,000 extra positions.
While city officials appreciate the extra funding, some say the money came too late and left little time for planning.
J.D. Brown, associate director of Washington's youth employment office, welcomed the extra federal money, but wished he could have known about it earlier.
"At a lot of places they're simply scrambling to spend the money, and that's what happens when a system gets jerked around at the eleventh hour," says Frank Slobig, director of policy and programs at Youth Service America. "My guess is that there will be a substantial amount of unspent money at the end of the summer."
Other cities are happily searching for ways to find new positions for more youngsters.
Boston, for example, received an extra $2.9 million in federal funds. City officials say they were prepared to handle more youths.
"We do meet year-round," says Brian Connolly, executive director of the Boston Youth Clean-Up Corps. "We're always anticipating that we will be successful in our fund-raising efforts."
In New York, youth advocates say programs are still underfunded. The city received approximately $32 million in new federal money, but in only 24-hour-per-week, part-time jobs, says Richard Murphy, commissioner of New York City's department of youth services.
"Basically, what the federal government says is, `Here's some money so you don't burn and loot. Maybe this will stop you.' And its by no means enough. It's not in a context of a whole plan. Its totally reactive," Commissioner Murphy says.
Despite the disruption caused by the infusion of federal money, cities are offering interesting programs for youngsters. Serita Kelsea, who researches family issues for the National League of Cities, says that, traditionally, cities have employed youngsters to clean streets or work for the recreation department. Now, cities are including more academics and career education in their programs, Ms. Kelsea says.
Andrew Hahn, associate dean of the Heller Graduate School of Social Policy at Brandeis University, says summer programs for inner city youth have been traditionally considered nothing more than "fire insurance," or low-skilled labor to keep kids out of trouble. But now some programs for at-risk youth include remedial academic work along with the job, he says.
"You don't have them sit in the same stifling and boring classrooms [as during the academic year]," he says.
Washington, for example, is sponsoring a new maritime program in which inner city kids learn about navigation, carpentry, and self-development skills aboard a schooner that sails from Baltimore to Washington.
YouthBuild USA Inc., a year-round national program based in Belmont, Mass., trains kids to renovate vacant housing in their communities as well as catching up on academic work in alternating weeks. The program also encourages kids to participate in program decision-making and planning.
Mr. Hahn says kids need more than just "make-work" summer jobs. "The summer is a time when they can combine work and education," he says. "It's real important for kids to be exposed to academic themes during the summer as well as jobs."