Jerome Bettis knows the importance of being given an opportunity, and then taking full advantage of it. It was something he did as a kid growing up in Detroit, Michigan, and keeping that mindset got him where he is today, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2015.
Now Bettis wants to do his part to give the youth in Pittsburgh an opportunity to grow, and is lending a hand through the Jerome Bettis 'Bus Stops Here' Foundation.
Bettis has teamed with the City of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County and Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board for the "Summer of Learn and Earn." The program hopes to match 2,000 local youth, ages 14-21, from the area with summer jobs that can prepare them for future careers. It's a program similar to where he got his start, as his first job was working with Police Cadets in public safety in the Detroit Summer Youth Employment Program.
"I was a disadvantaged youth in the City of Detroit and I had the privilege of being involved in a summer youth program and it made a difference for me," said Bettis, "It taught me responsibility. I had to get up every day. It taught me accountability when I got to work. I had to be there on time and I had things I needed to do. It also taught me money management, once I got a paycheck to not blow it…which I did the first couple. It taught me the necessary things to grow and develop."
Last year 1,300 young people applied for jobs through Pittsburgh's Summer Youth Employment program, but with only limited positions available many were left without what could be a life-changing opportunity. The Learn and Earn program will change that.
"What it means is if you want the opportunity for a summer of earning and learning, we're going to provide it to you," said Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto. "You give them the opportunity to do more and to have self esteem, where they can earn the opportunity. What we are providing is not a job … it's hope."
The program is focusing on training youth now and building a workforce that will help keep Pittsburgh viable in decades to come. But to make it work corporations are needed to participate in the program and sponsor and hire the youth for a six week employment opportunity. The program will match experience levels with the caliber of work, to make sure both employer and students benefit.
Jerome Bettis and his family visit the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
"Summer jobs are not only an important way to provide spending money to youth, but can also provide money-management skills, work skills, problem-solving skills, develop their critical thinking and offer life-skills training," said County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. "With the help and commitment of our many partners in this region, we'll be able to offer our youth jobs as well as networking opportunities that can provide them with positive relationships with a mentor that can serve them for years to come. We are proud to help play a part in this investment in our young people."
While Bettis no longer lives in Pittsburgh he still considers it home and a community he is a part of, so he wants the youth here to have the same opportunities he had growing up.
"This is an investment in the community," said Bettis. "This is not just providing jobs. This is providing an opportunity. What that job did was open my eyes to the world. I realized anything was possible. I had the ability to look at things that never would have been on my radar had that summer job not been presented to me. It changed my life, so I know it will change the lives of a lot of the youth in Pittsburgh."