By Rachel Livinal, Art from Ashes Beat Writer
They say youth are the future, and amid rising concern about climate change, food insecurity, and educational resources, the City of Long Beach says they are, one way or another.
Sustainability Coordinator for the of Long Beach Larry Rich says the new Youth Climate Corps, expected to launch this summer, will provide a variety of opportunities including training in character building and work readiness, leadership positions, and work with nonprofit organizations to give at-risk youth experience in the field.
All jobs are geared toward sustainability while mitigating climate change.
The City of Long Beach presented the development of the program for the City’s Climate Action and Environmental committee and the public during a meeting early last month.
In order to participate, most young people must be between the ages of 16 and 30 and have at least two of the following: low-income or unemployed, self-attested or having participated in mental health or substance abuse systems, or are transitioning from foster care.
Rich said the requirements are important for most or all of the participants because the Climate Corps seeks to help those who “have been historically underserved.”
“This is creating an opportunity for people who in the past did not have access to these types of programs,” Rich said. “Or at the very least, we get to prioritize our employment needs and desire to engage in work experience opportunities.”
The point of the program is “to lead to actual jobs,” which would range in payscale from $16 to $27 an hour.
The public had mixed feelings on the introduction of the new initiative. Charlotte Kings, a member of the Sunrise Movement, one nonprofit with a hub located in Long Beach, said the wages proposed were not enough.
“A $16, $17 or $18 wage is not a living wage in this city,” Kings said. “I know that for many young people, including myself, and basically every other young person I know, this would prevent us from joining this program as this wage would not allow us to live in this city.”
Climate Corps pledged to keep 380 youth in the program; however, Kings proposed that in order to raise the wages, the program could allow fewer participants, which would provide a higher wage for each member.
Kings also said that the general outcomes were to provide “paid youth job placements in public agencies or non-profits” as well as “after-program placement in permanent jobs or continuing education.”
Another member of the Sunrise Movement, Kenny Allen, said that the educational component could be taxing on the members of the program, which might discourage them.
“It’s really hard to afford any kind of educational addition to what you might already be doing in terms of college or high school,” Allen said. “It just doesn’t guarantee the same safety and success afterwards as a job.”
In order to lessen this burden, which Allen described as an equivalent to “working two jobs,” he suggested the program could focus more on job connection than education and training.
The City launched a survey that was expected to provide an accurate gauge for what the program should accomplish in terms of job and education success rate.
Public comment geared on the side of skepticism. Dave Shukla, the operations director for the Long Beach Alliance for Clean Energy said that the program’s outcomes should not be taken lightly by the program’s directors.
“[These kids’ opportunities and climate performance improvements are] not something that can be forgiven or forgotten,” Shukla said. “Please understand, you don’t get many chances to get this right. And the state of California is [what] I am directing these comments to as much as the city of Long Beach. You have to get these environmental performance gains.”
Even with the possible skepticism, the climate action committee was relatively excited and looking forward to the program’s improvements. Mary Zendejas, a member of the committee, was especially focused.
“Anytime that we have discussions and plans for supporting our youth, it always makes me incredibly happy,” Zenedejas said. “Because I know that in equipping our youth with all the resources they need and in empowering them to take up space in these very important conversations lies the key for securing a better future for all of us.”
The Climate Corps is expecting a funding award in May and will launch the program at the start of this summer. It will last for two years, ending in the summer of 2024.