Rep. John J. LaFalce and young people whose lives were changed by a summer jobs program put a local face on $2.2 billion worth of cuts from job-training programs approved by the House and awaiting Senate action.
"There are many things we don't know in this life, and despite the stereotypes people have about kids at Grover Cleveland (High School), we really want to succeed in life," said Wilfredo Malave, 16.
He was one of a half-dozen youths who participated Monday in a news conference in the Father Belle Center. The Democratic congressman from the Town of Tonawanda held the session to bring attention to the impact of a bill that would cut $17 billion in federal urban aid this year.
"There is a little ray of hope," he said. "The Senate has not voted to eliminate the program."
LaFalce said a Senate committee has voted to restore the funds in this year's budget but end the funding in the next fiscal year. LaFalce promised to push for continued funding of summer youth employment programs.
Wilfredo, who worked at the Niagara Family Health Center last summer, said the experience influenced him to pursue a career in the health field, something he said he would not otherwise have considered.
Vivian Turner, director of Summer Youth Programs for the city, said the program run through the Father Belle Center on the city's West Side combines a half day of remedial education and work experience for disadvantaged youth.
"We are talking about preparing young people for work," she said. "They learn the basic work skills. Without this program, you're talking about kids going into the private sector with no experience at all."
Modesto Candelario, director of the center, said the federally funded youth program provides jobs for about 28 West Side youths, who in turn help supervise another 125 children taking advantage of the center's summer programs.
"This will definitely devastate our summer program. Let's look elsewhere for cuts," he said.
Colleen Cummings, director of employment and training intake and access for the city, recalled how one of her first summer jobs 17 years ago at City Hall was through the summer youth program. Because of that job, she learned about opportunities available through Civil Service exams.
"I didn't have an opportunity to work in the private sector, I was still in school and getting an education," Mrs. Cummings recalled.
James Ross-Mack, 16, worked on construction projects with the non-profit group Habitat for Humanity last summer.
"They took us to construction sites, and we did the real thing. It gaves us goals, it helped me," James said.
LaFalce said about $1.7 million of the training money is for the Summer Youth Employment Program, and that as many as 2,500 jobs are at risk in Erie County, 400 in Niagara County and up to 6,000 in all of Western New York. Youth eligible for the program are between the ages of 14 and 21.