Pools closed. Youth programs were canceled. Seasonal employment was hard to find.
Amid a rampaging coronavirus pandemic last year, youngsters across Columbus likely found themselves without much to occupy their time when school let out for summer.
Mayor Andrew J. Ginther said Thursday he’s determined to prevent that from happening for a second year in a row. Speaking at a news conference outside the Driving Park Community Recreation Center, Ginther unveiled a slate of youth summer programming in the city made possible by public/private partnerships.
Referring to “unprecedented investments we are making into our city’s young people,” Ginther said his hope is for the programming to help the city’s youth “build back some of what they’ve lost during this pandemic in a very challenging year.”
“These lifelines of services have never been more important than this summer,” Ginther said.
The initiative, referenced in the mayor’s virtual State of the City speech in mid-April, is the latest in ongoing efforts by city leaders to tamp down violence they say is often perpetrated by and against young people.
The Thursday briefing came amid a soaring homicide rate as the city on Wednesday reached the 66th homicide of the year — about two months ahead of the pace in 2020, the city’s deadliest year on record.
And it came a day after a 9-year-old girl was shot in the chest just before 5 p.m. Wednesday during gunfire on the South Side. The girl, who was treated at a hospital for a bullet that missed her heart by inches and later released, told Columbus police that she was opening the door at her residence to go outside when the gunfire erupted.
The cycle of violence that ensnares so many young people can be tough to break, but Ginther said his intention is for the multitude of programming to provide alternative outlets for the city’s children and teens to socialize, learn and even earn a wage.
“All of the youth activities help keep our young people engaged and keep them from being a victim in crime,” Ginther said. “Every child in this city deserves to be safe.”
Among this summer’s offerings are about 50 summer camps hosted through the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department; free late-night basketball from 6 to 11 p.m. June 7 to June 30 at 10 community recreation centers for those ages 12 to 30; and Go, Lunch! programs providing free lunches for anyone ages 18 and younger, as well as certain eligible young people up to the age of 21.
Admission fees to all city pools will be waived this season, Ginther announced. However, COVID-19 capacity limits means that residents will have to register online before arrival.
Children and teens will also have plenty of employment opportunities this summer, Ginther announced.
The city’s recreation and parks department is hiring more than 200 seasonal staff members for a variety of positions, including as lifeguards and camp counselors. Another 400 positions are available to those ages 16 to 24 willing to clean up litter in Columbus’ neighborhoods through Earth Service Corps.
A collaboration between CelebrateOne and Planned Parenthood’s Ohio Center for Sex Education will enroll 50 youth ages 14 to 18 to become paid peer educators who will disseminate sexual health information to peers to prevent unintended pregnancies and reduce sexually transmitted diseases. CelebrateOne is also partnering with the Ohio Center for Sex Education and Nationwide Children’s Hospital to recruit another 50 youth between the ages of 14 and 19 for an eight-week paid summer fellowship alongside health care professionals.
Other public and private organizations are also partnering to connect young people with jobs — and employers who are interested in hiring young people this summer.
Joy Bivens, deputy Franklin County administrator, announced a $1.4 million expansion of “Ready 2 Earn,” a work readiness program that includes job training and $1,000 in stipends and incentive payments for those involved.
“’Ready 2 Earn’ is about equipping them to excel in college or their career choice for the future,” Bivens said. “Programs like this are a generation investment.”
The city Department of Neighborhoods and the Workforce Development Board of Central Ohio are partnering with the Franklin County Board of Commissioners and OhioMeansJobs Columbus-Franklin County Job Center to host the annual My Brother’s Keepers Youth and Community Job Fair from May 13 and 14. Though the virtual event is open to the entire community, the focus is on providing full-time and part-time summer employment opportunities for youth age 15 and older.
“Now, more than ever, many of our young people are disconnected from the institutions that kept them grounded and safe,” said Carla Williams-Scott, director of the Columbus Department of Neighborhoods. “We want our community, and especially our young people, to know that we see you, we hear you and we are here for you.”
Ginther indicated that the city plans to provide federal funds from the American Rescue Plan to local nonprofit organizations seeking to establish or grow violence prevention, education and employment programming. Details will be released as funding becomes available.
For more information about city of Columbus summer programming, go to: columbus.gov/schoolsout.
The news conference Thursday was Ginther’s seventh media event addressing gun violence since June 2020, when homicide and shooting rates began to reach record levels.
In March, Ginther led a news conference announcing several initiatives, including expansion of the ReRoute program — in which Columbus police assist young people who are involved in lower-level criminal activity — as well as the doubling of interventionists the CARE Coalition will have available to do micro-interventions.
Prior to March’s news briefing, the mayor and other city leaders had last met to announce in October 2020 plans to open extension learning centers in community centers offering students in-person education opportunities, amid other initiatives. It was the fifth and final such event of 2020 since June that year, when Ginther said the city will use $2 million in CARES Act money to provide summer camps and programming to target youth gun violence.
Citing the several news conferences unveiling the latest crime prevention initiatives, Ginther said he views the efforts as all part of a comprehensive approach to stemming the tide of violence.
“I hope you join me,” he said, “in looking forward to a better, happier and healthier summer in 2021.”