- ENJOY summer jobs program provides urban youth with employment and real-life skills.
- Program honors Black history and familiarizes kids with municipal service.
- City Hall commended the program for its impact on the community and leadership of Pat Clarke.
A beat-up truck pulls up to the corner of 35th and Indiana, and the driver asks a group of teens if they are giving anything away.
The kids, part of the ENJOY summer jobs program led by Pat Clarke, address the man with the utmost respect. “No sir, not today,” says one of the kids.
The man in the truck gives some unsolicited life advice, telling the teens who’ve arrived early to their meeting that ‘it’s tough out here’ and to ‘stay in school.’ A chorus of voices says, ‘thank you, sir’ before the truck pulls away. Clarke explains that this is what makes the ENJOY program special.
“It starts with common courtesy,” says Clarke. “If you can’t say ‘yes sir’ and ‘no ma’am,’ then you can’t work for me.”
ENJOY is an acronym for Engineering Neighborhood Job Opportunities for Youth. Clarke created the program five years ago, honoring the JOY program he grew up with in the 1970s. Each day of the nine-week summer program starts with a class session; then the kids get to work.
The kids, aged 13 to 18, pick up trash five days a week for four hours a day. They get paid $250 a week for their work. The idea is to give kids in the urban core a job, something to do, and keep them away from violent crime. Most of the kids in the ENJOY program come from the Oak Park neighborhood, an area that The Kansas City Star once deemed the ‘murder factory.’
“A lot of these kids need a way; they need a way out. The gutter boy on their shirt represents where we come from. The thing about the gutter is there’s nothing lower than that. Every way is up,” says Clarke.
Over the summer, the kids pick up hundreds of bags of trash, but they also engage with the community, meet their neighbors, and build relationships. Clarke also brings the kids to places like the Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Heritage Center, KCPD headquarters, and City Hall to give them a sense of Black history and to familiarize them with municipal service.
“It’s more than just picking up trash; we teach them real-life skills,” says Clarke.
ENJOY meetings start with kids showing up promptly, in uniform—they can get fired from the job— and putting their cell phones into a box while Clarke mentors the youth in his unique way. A common call-and-response that Clarke says is, “I’m preparing you for…” and in unison, the kids respond “later.”
Clarke tells this year’s 26 teens to give $50 of their weekly paychecks to their parents. When he gets pushback, he reminds them of how they got here and tells them to get used to the idea of taxes and/or child support taking money out of their paychecks.
“What you do today might not show up till tomorrow, but at least you did it right,” says Clarke. “Not one of you kids should call me in 5 to 10 years talking about ‘I need $10,’ not when I told you how to get it.”
Commendation From City Hall
Last month, the ENJOY program received a formal commendation from City Hall, honoring the work that the program has done.
“I’ve had the pleasure of driving past 35th and Indiana every day this summer and seeing these kids out there serving, leading, and loving the people by making sure Kansas City stays beautiful,” said Third District Councilwoman Mellissa Robinson.
The ENJOY program receives funding from the city, and leadership includes Clarke, Forrest Tyson Jr., and Kim Randolph of the Heartland Black Chamber of Commerce, who helped develop the curriculum.
“Pat Clarke does an excellent job with our youth, showing them that they are loved and that this community loves and supports them,” said Mayor Pro Tem Ryana Parks-Shaw.
The City Council all applauded the program but particularly praised Clarke’s leadership.
“He’s [Clarke] one of the most walk-the-walk talk-the-talk guys I’ve ever met,” said First District Councilman Kevin O’Neil.
Randolph, Clarke, and the 26 kids in this year’s program were all present at City Hall to receive the formal commendation. Mayor Quinton Lucas encouraged the program’s kids to integrate into the community.
“I hope you get to see the City Council chamber and come back in this position; I hope while you’re downtown, you think about running one of the businesses in the city. I want you to know that we are rooting for your success and are strong supporters of it,” said Mayor Lucas.
Heavenly Praise, 19, who has been a member of the ENJOY program since its inception, is now a pre-law student at Texas Tech. She just completed her last year of the program and says it’s been transformational.
“There’s a lot of changes that have happened in me and these kids from this program,” said Praise.
Clarke addressed the City Council, saying that God gave him a job he can’t give back, and stressed a need to continue to offer opportunities to youth in order to lower crime.
“We need to look out for these kids because it’s our kids that are committing the crimes,” said Clarke.
How to Get Involved
The ENJOY program takes youths 13 to 18 primarily from the Oak Park neighborhood but are interested in taking on kids from other parts of the area if they are in need of the mentorship provided. There are a limited number of seats each year, and Randolph says that Clarke has a knack for identifying ‘kids that need saving.’
Clarke says that he has a backlog, but if someone is interested, they’d need to fill out an application that’s available at his office at 3449 Indiana Ave. in Kansas City, MO.