By Karen Stokes
Seventeen-year old Zaquwan Dorsey wasn’t thinking about landscaping or working with young children when his mother encouraged him to apply to the Earn and Learn program last spring.
The EARN & LEARN Summer Youth Employment Program started in 2007 and is designed to provide meaningful work experiences and career exposure to young adults ages 14-24 years old, residing in Milwaukee County and the City of Milwaukee.
“We had over 230 worksites where young people got an opportunity to get work experience, from faith based organizations, nonprofits, to private sector employers we even have governmental entities. People were able to work at the Milwaukee Zoological Society this year,” said Chytania Brown, CEO of Employ Milwaukee.
Dorsey received a spot with Earn and Learn and interned at the Solomon Community Temple.
“Some of my tasks were working in the garden and the food pantry, making sure the food was straight,” Dorsey said. “We planted vegetables and we pulled weeds.”
Dorsey interned 20 hours/week every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.
What Earn and Learn does for young people outside of the paycheck and the paycheck is great, is help many of the families out. With the American Rescue Plan with the funds we received from JPMorgan Chase we’ve been able to increase wages. Having that increase in wage jumpstarts the economy because young people like to spend,” Brown said.
“When we’re not in the garden we’re stocking food for the food pantry and on Saturday we work with kids. We plant food to feed the kids. Workers make plant based food for the kids, like stir fry. Everything they make is plant based,” Dorsey said.
If the kids didn’t like the vegetarian meal, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were available.
Dorsey has gone on a few trips with the kids. The first week they learned and practiced biking basics with Red Bike and Green, an African American biking group.
The second week they went on an 11 mile bike ride. The following week they sailed with the Milwaukee Community Sailing Center.
“I learned a lot, my mom was thinking about getting me into landscaping. Working with this program helped me learn to landscape,” said Dorsey. “I was thinking it could help me to get a future in landscaping.”
To date, Employ Milwaukee, in partnership with Mayor Cavalier Johnson of the City of Milwaukee and numerous community partners and stakeholders, has provided paid EARN & LEARN work experiences to over 40,000 young adults in the community.
“The name is Earn and Learn and we’re earning money for learning, that’s what I like about this,” Dorsey said. “It’s easy and it helped me to connect with children. I was never too good with kids now I’m pretty comfortable with them and teaching them.”