Juma Strong: Engaging Youth in Sacramento

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, low-income youth in Sacramento and across the country have been hit with a host of challenges. According to a report from Sacramento’s Employment Development Department, from 2020-2021, younger workers were disproportionately laid off from the workforce. To make matters worse, at the height of the pandemic, many local community based organizations (CBOs) lost their connections with young people and faced financial difficulties, staff reductions, high turnover, and even possible dissolution. Juma Sacramento and the youth we serve were not exempt from many of these challenges, but, thanks to the diligent work of Sacramento’s staff and the support of our community, today, they’re serving more young people than ever before.

Prior to the pandemic, Juma typically onboarded a cohort of30 young people in the spring, but in the spring of 2021, the first year of re-opening while still in the midst of the pandemic, engagement was down by 33%. With the pandemic ongoing, young people faced deeper mental-health challenges, a lack of resources, financial strain, and disconnection from other crucial organizations. The challenges made it harder to keep youth engaged and they more easily fell through the cracks. The Juma Sacramento team knew things had to change, and built a proactive plan to get spring recruitment for 2023 back on track. 

The new engagement plan started with an all-hands-on-deck approach. Their efforts began with the Enterprise team who reached out earlier than usual to employment partners to get critical information about the upcoming season. Next, the team tapped into the Sacramento Advisory Board’s networks among local organizations. Finally, they worked to deepen existing partnerships–ultimately, every member of the Juma team came together to get the message out to youth who might be a good fit. Once the ball was rolling, all of the Sacramento staff participated in the recruitment process to begin building relationships and effectively engage youth from the start. 

Their teamwork paid off when 35 young people were hired and onboarded for the 2023 spring cohort. Not only did more young people join the program than before, but the new youth have been highly engaged from the start. “Each cohort has its own characteristics, and this year we had a stand-out group,’ said Michela Chatmon, Sacramento’s Associate Regional Program Manager. “All of the young people had no hesitation that they’d be a good fit for the program, they were ready, and they would take full advantage of this opportunity.” 

This engaged cohort of young people had their first shift at the River Cats home opener game on April 4th. Enterprise Manager Donna Franklin shares that “I got emotional while looking at my team of over 40 young people who showed up ready to work that day. We started 6 seasons ago with just 8 positions and now we are running 3 out of 6 full concession stands and up to 5 warehouse positions and portable carts – practically half the park!” At Juma, we believe in the power of work and the potential of young people, and we are thrilled that today, more youth are working and engaging with Juma Sacramento than ever before.