CHA looks to keep kids busy this summer

Jesika Hicks came to a summer enrollment fair last night near Roosevelt Square to hear more about the Chicago Housing Authority's Earn and Learn program, which could help her explore career options, improve her academic skills and make money this summer.

"I'm a total geek," says Hicks. "I love learning new things. I want a job so I can earn money, but it'll be good for me in the future too."

Hicks was just one of the many young people at the fair, signing up for summer activities with the Chicago Housing Authority, After School Matters, the Chicago Park District, and Youth Ready Chicago. She says she hopes kids in her neighborhood sign up and stay out of trouble.

"It will keep people off the streets, especially when you have the chance to earn money," says Hicks.

Keeping kids busy and off the streets is just what the Chicago Housing Authority staff hope these 11 different recruitment fairs will do.

"With school being out during the summertime, we want to make sure that our kids have the opportunity to participate in something productive, some skill-building, character-enhancing activities," says Kristin Hamer, director of community relations for CHA.

And the activities aren't just for little kids. While there are activities for the younger set, the fair also offers jobs, internships and apprenticeships for teens and young people in their early 20s. Hamer says that's important for public housing kids, who may not have the same resources that other young people have.

"It's important for any youth, but it's particularly important for CHA youth who may not have the access to certain networks to obtain certain types of jobs or to get any job where they can really learn something," she says.

Learning something over the summer helps kids keep up in school. Research from the John Hopkins Center for Summer Learning says low-income kids lose nearly two-months of reading and math skills, compared to their middle-class peers, who often gain skills over the summer.

Long term, that can mean lower-income kids fall more and more behind. And that's why access to summer enrichment activities is so significant, says David Sinski, executive director of After School Matters.

"Out-of-school time programming is designed to keep young people busy and safe during these critical hours," says Sinski. "We cannot underestimate the importance of creating quality summer opportunities for our youth."

One unique program to keep kids busy for the summer is Camp Rosenthal, a summer camp in Michigan that offers 200 slots for CHA kids to spend a week or more at camp.

Chicago Youth Centers has been running the camp for inner city kids since 1961. Ryan Yepsen, who works for Chicago Youth Centers, says kids develop self-reliance at camp, learning team work and leadership skills as well as learning more about nature, something they don't get the chance to do very often in Chicago.

"It offers a chance for kids to get away from the city for awhile and try something new," says Yepsen.

Tandreona Hampton, 14 and her aunt, Tiara Hampton, 21 both came to the summer enrollment fair to find a summer job. The two girls want to work for the Park District, spending time teaching and mentoring younger kids, while earning money.

Tandreona says she's happy to have the opportunity to sign up for a summer job. She hopes her job will be fun.

"I think it's good," she says. "I think it gets people off the streets and gives us something to do for the summer. That's good."

The Chicago Housing Authority will hold eight more summer enrollment fairs for CHA youth:

Friday, May 8 - Odgen Park, 6500 S. Racine Ave.

Tuesday, May 12 - Washington Park, 5531 S. King Drive

Wednesday, May 13 - Horner Park - 2741 W. Montrose Ave.

Thursday, May 14 - Humboldt Park - 1440 N. Sacramento Ave.

Monday, May 18 - Carver Park - 939 E. 132nd Street

Tuesday, May 19 - Trumbull Park - 2400 E. 105th Street

Wednesday, May 20 - Warren Park - 6601 N. Western Ave.

All run from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Staff Writer Megan Cottrell covers public housing for the Daily News. She can be reached at 773-362-5002, ext. 12, or megan [at] chitowndailynews [dot] org.