When a group of South Side teens participating in the Obama Youth Jobs Corps program at the Obama Foundation offices in Chicago gathered, the least of the things they hoped to be blessed with was the presence of former president Barack Obama himself.
The group of about a dozen teenagers got the surprise of a lifetime when the former president popped in on them during their visit to the Obama Foundation. They were there to meet with Chief Engagement Officer Michael Strautmanis.
Launched last year, the job corps program plans to bring year-long workforce-readiness training and internships to high school sophomores, juniors and seniors on Chicago’s South Side over the next five years. The program is between the Obama Foundation and a national non-profit youth development organization, Urban Alliance.
Miaa Cheeks, a 17-year-old and a graduate of Kenwood Academy High School, who works at the foundation as part of the job corps described the experience as: “He opened the door and I was so surprised. I thought, ‘I’m not about to cry in front of the (former) president.'”
The former president sat down for a chat with the teens and spoke about the importance of job-training programs that are creating opportunities for young people across Chicago. He also took time to respond to questions from the teens and listened as they shared their experiences.
“Part of the goal of this program is to expose you to what’s possible,” Obama said.
“Everybody here has already shown extraordinary talent and initiative. All of you are focused in a way that I can’t say I necessarily was when I was your age. So you guys are already ahead of the game,” he continued.
“Part of our goal is also to make sure that you recognize that even as you succeed, that the communities from which you come are going to need you to be active and involved and engaged and focused. Because all of us, as citizens and generally, have an obligation to make sure that we’re tending to the city we live in.”
The OYJC aims to increase access to economic opportunity for low-income high school students in some of the most underserved communities in Chicago with a year-long paid internship.