Supervising a crew of teenaged landscapers involves much more than teaching youth how to use rakes and shovels, says Sherman Montgomery. “I teach them people skills, life skills,” Montgomery said. “I try to teach the kids communication skills.”
Montgomery, 26, is the landscape supervisor at (BYA), a city-funded organization that provides after-school care, summer camps and job opportunities for at-risk youth. But Montgomery and his crew may have to put away their gloves and lawnmowers for good if the city council approves the recommendations of the for fiscal year 2012 spending.
At stake is Montgomery’s part-time position and about two dozen part-time jobs for teens aged roughly 14 to 18. The Parks and Recreation Commission has recommended eliminating this program, which costs $57,000 and is funded by the city’s general fund.
Berkeley Youth Alternatives’ program provides minimum-wage positions for youth who work approximately six hours per week during the school year and more during the summer. They are responsible for maintaining, landscaping and cleaning Strawberry Creek Park and Grove Street Park.
Faced with deep cuts in funding from both state and federal sources, the city had asked several commissions to make recommendations on what programs could be trimmed or eliminated in different areas.
Pam Gray, chair of the Parks and Recreation Commission, said their recommendation to eliminated BYA’s landscaping job program had not been easy. “The 12 percent cuts that we were charged to make were very painful ones for the whole commission,” Gray said in her presentation to the city council on April 26, 2011. “These were painful choices we had to make among the various programs that serve Berkeley youth.”
Gray said that Berkeley Youth Alternatives’ jobs program duplicated services provided by another city program at a higher cost per participant. “This [BYA’s] program serves 16 youth at a cost of almost $5000 per participant per year,” Gray said in her presentation. “By comparison, YouthWorks, the city of Berkeley’s youth employment program, serves almost 340 youths per year at a participant cost of $1700 per year.”
But Rebecca Prager, a counselor and case manager at Berkeley Youth Alternatives, says their jobs program delivers more than just a paycheck. The jobs keep kids off the streets and serve as an entryway to counseling and case management services that BYA also offers.
“In this age group, I see nothing but trouble,” said Montgomery of the youth he currently works with. “They’re gonna have nowhere to go, nowhere to hang out, no advocate to speak to.”
Montgomery, Prager and a group of students and alumni addressed the city council at the May 17, 2011 meeting to speak in support of their jobs program. “I grew up in the neighborhood, so I’m a icon to the kids,” Montgomery said. “By taking the landscape away from them I can’t teach them what I want to teach them.”
Prager said that BYA is actively fund-raising to cover the costs of their other current programs and are now scrambling to find a way to meet this latest challenge.
The Parks and Recreation Commission also recommended reducing funding to the East Bay Asian Youth Center by 6.8 percent and to the by 6.9 percent. Berkeley city council is currently scheduled to vote upon the budget for fiscal year 2012 on June 28, 2011.