Cooperative Youth Program
Lucille Morgan Williams:
With approval of the board of directors; Lucille Morgan Williams, Clementine Stitt-Wood, Barbara Williams, Pearly Williams and Janice Tillman (none of the Williams are related), the “Summer Intern” program at the Chicago Cooperative, Hermitage Manor, was implemented.
Roughly 8 years ago, numerous Members were complaining about groups of teenagers hanging around with nothing to do when school was out. The idea to constructively entertain the youth while creating an immaculate property, took from in replacing previously outsourced chores and paying that wage to the youth members. A budget of $6,000 was allocated out of operating expense to pay $8/hour to 10 carefully selected youth, ages 14-17. On payday every two weeks, interns were paid in cash purposely with at least one $50 bill in the check. The cooperative posted snapshots of the kids getting their $50 bills, which spread word around the Co-op.
Two prerequisites took control of the interviewing process; conduct on the property and conduct at school. Supervisors required seeing the last part of each interviewee’s report card. GPA didn’t matter as much as the teacher’s comments. If a youth was a problem at school they were not to be rewarded with a summer job. The interview process was advertised via flyer and was conducted with a start date of July 1. It was first come, first serve and being promptly at 9:00 am. Only 10 students were hired each summer so if someone was hired last summer, they would have to rotate out so as to give everyone an opportunity. 60 students have been in the program thus far.
A problem arose when a number of youth moved into the Co-op only for the summer. So as to not take over from the children who were registered Members, this resulted in an additional requirement that the summer interns had to be members of the property for at least 1 year.
This program benefited this Co-op in ways no one expected. Not only was the property constantly immaculate, but also the youth really began to take pride in their community. The discipline for the 12 and 13 year olds excelled because they were being watched to get approved from the Board when they turned 14, but also from the interns as they were not in charge of cleaning up after their younger peers. Youth disciplining youth proved extensively effective. Although the supervisors gave the students 4 rules that were non-negotiable, 3 more rules were up to them to decide upon. Surprisingly, they are more harsh with their own rules than anything created by their elders.
The summer interns would work in uniform white t-shirts from 8am-11am 5 days/week. The very first project consisted of painting the rod iron fence that surrounded the property. A quoted job of $4,500, the inters quickly volunteered and completed the project for $1,500. One of the boys even came up with an idea to used boards the width of a doorway to lay under the fence so the paint would stay off the sidewalks. Other duties included cleaning streets, sweeping, window washing, planting different kinds of shrubbery, built a retaining wall for the flowers and even laid a brick walkway that excelled any contractor’s work. Lucille Williams served as Supervisor along with fellow Board members Janice Tillman and Pearly Williams. She says she loved the opportunity to get to know the youth better. “In the really hot summers, by the end of the day we’d have a water fight with the hose and just laugh with each other.”
For most of the kids, this was their first real job. They understood that when they went to look for their next job, they would have to obtain a recommendation from the supervisors. “Sure enough, for new jobs, college applications and dorm master positions, they would have to come ring my doorbell and I’d be happy to write them a letter,” says Lucille Williams. The supervisors stressed the importance of respect and taught that a reputation follows a person everywhere.
At the end of every summer, the Members took the opportunity to display appreciation for a hard summer’s work. A much envied dinner of the intern’s choice on Michigan Avenue in a white stretch limousine was always very anticipated. This event only added to the desire from the younger youth to be a part of this position in the future.