Eighteen-year-old Bertha Jones played Four Square with a small group of third and fourth grade girls Monday night in The Hope Center Gymnasium.
Jones, who rotated from corner to corner, bouncing an orange basketball, as if she were equal parts coach and competitor, came to the after school program that night as a part-time employee, with a clear mission of her future, because of a decision she made four years ago.
“I didn't want to do it. But, my mom was making me do it. If I wanted to get my phone bill paid it was must to come and get that $50 per week,” Jones said.
She took a job through Step Up Omaha! at the age of 14. No one at The Hope Center expected she would last. They also didn’t think she would grow into a responsible role model who would mentor younger children.
“I just feel like Step Up, it made me who I am now. That's the only thing it did. It made me who I am now,” Jones said.
Step-Up Omaha! Summer jobs program will fill about 600 openings this year. That number has increased from 2015. When applications closed last month, nearly 1200 youth applied, proving that demand for work and the life-skills training the program brings to youth across the Omaha metro is incredibly competitive.
“[The program is] about exposing them to things they never knew they wanted to do. So, she was around kids and now she knows that she loves that,” said Jami Anders-Kemp with the Empowerment Network, who administers the program.
Opportunity did not close with the application process, however. Anders-Kemp said Step Up Omaha! was looking for pledges from businesses to help sponsor the students, and continue growing the program.
“When we have that many young people taking the initiative to fill out the application and get parents involved, we really would love for our employers to step up,” she said.
The program employs youth between the ages of 14 to 21. At 18, it’s taught Jones that she enjoys children. She plans to open her own childcare center one day, and is confident in its success.
Step Up Omaha! begins June 6. Click here for more information.