Parallel signs wanted “our jobs” and “our senior year” back. Photo by Chris Stone

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted Tuesday to spend $500,000 on a new program, called Youth Environmental/Recreational Corp, to help young people with career opportunities.

Supervisors Terra Lawson-Remer and Nora Vargas said they proposed the initiative “to help young people in the region jumpstart their careers amid the pandemic-induced recession.”

Once it gets underway, the program will support career readiness, workforce development, and mentorship, and will be open to any county resident between 16 and 24 years old. It will also provide paid employment opportunities for low-income youth through county departments, with a focus on careers in the green economy, according to Lawson-Remer and Vargas.

Lawson-Remer said that in her younger years, being around mentors helped her flourish, adding that if she had to grow up during a pandemic, “I don’t know if I’d be so lucky.”

There’s a big need for a program that will offer opportunities to youth throughout the region, she said.

A report published by the San Diego Workforce Partnership estimated that there are about 417,000 people in the San Diego region between 16 and 24.

Out of that group, 43,000 are considered “opportunity youth,” or those are not in school and not working.

County staffers within 90 days will present a full proposal that identifies green job opportunities for young people, along with ways to fund and help community organizations that support youth career readiness.

According to information attached to the supervisors’ agenda, the county will spend $500,000 on the program for fiscal year 2021-22, followed by another $500,000 for fiscal year 2022-23.

Supervisor Jim Desmond praised the program, saying it will hopefully lead to internships to help young people get their feet in the door.

During an hour-long public hearing, dozens of social justice and community advocates urged the board to fund the program.

Alexander Han, a coordinator with Sunrise Movement San Diego, said young people “are basically the backbone of our society.”

The next generation will become vital future political and business leaders, Han said, adding, “We need to be preparing them so they can get ready for this.”

Safia Haidari, an organizer for San Diego-based Youth Will, praised supervisors for approving the program, but said more still needs to be done.

“We will continue to open equitable pathways to ensure all young people who want to work have work,” Haidari said. “Youth is our future, and in order to have a growing, vibrant and sustainable San Diego, we must invest in their opportunities.”

The Youth Environmental/Recreation Corp “will not only invest in their future but prioritize the youth of today who are still suffering from COVID-19’s impacts: social isolation, job losses, health impacts and more,” Haidari added.

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