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SOUTH-CENTRAL/WATTS : Saying YES to Jobs for At-Risk Youths

October 09, 1994|ENRIQUE LAVIN

Saying "yes" to alternatives.

That's what the fledgling Youth Employment Systems (YES) is all about--providing jobs for high-risk, unemployable youths from the inner cities.

A brainchild of Watts community leader James Smith, 47, the nonprofit youth employment organization prepares youths 16 to 24 who have dropped out of school for careers in construction, the film industry and environmental fields. In the last 15 months, YES has trained and placed 15 youths in a variety of jobs.

"We need someone to help us with these fields," said Darrell Straight, 22, a high school dropout at 16 who recently graduated from Los Angeles Achievement School, a South-Central adult school, with Smith's encouragement.

Through Smith's contacts in the movie industry, Straight has been able to work on several film projects, most recently as a production assistant on an upcoming Miramax film, "Glass Shields."

Costa Mesa-based ENSR, an environmental consulting and engineering firm, is working with YES to help train youths in hazardous waste disposal as well as graffiti removal.

Smith hopes to expand the program to 30 youths a year. YES started with $150,000 in funding from individual and corporate supporters.

YES belongs to the Los Angeles Urban Youth and Family Coalition, 40 youth service groups sponsored by Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas. The coalition competes with other youth service programs for city funding.

Smith is also searching for a sponsor who could provide office space in South-Central or Watts to hold classes in job skills. He is now working out of borrowed office space in South-Central.

Today, YES will hold its second Youth in Action Awards fund-raiser, which will take place at the House of Blues, 8430 Sunset Blvd., from 2 to 7 p.m.

Before establishing YES, Smith directed the city Community Development Department's Gang and Drug Diversion and Job Training Program at Nickerson Gardens in Watts for four years. It was shortly after the spring riots of 1992 that Smith founded YES, based on a Los Angeles Housing Authority project that trained youths in the construction field.

YouthBuild USA, a national training and job placement program, was seeking to build a model agency in the inner city and gave YES $7,000 in seed money.

Smith's experience with drop-out students dates back to when he founded dropout prevention programs in Inglewood and Los Angeles schools in 1988 and 1991, respectively. From that experience and his work in Nickerson Gardens, Smith came to believe that hands-on job training was an important way to boost self-esteem and steer youths away from crime.

"That's what (youths) need. That's what they want. That's what they deserve, so they can have a piece of that American Dream," Smith said.

Information: (310) 649-5283.

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