For Okoye, tough choice is the right one

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 19, 2002

Chudy Okoye knows he could have made an easier career choice than that of persuading hard-nosed business owners to hire young, inexperienced workers who are having a difficult time in the job market.

But he doubts that any other career choice would be as satisfying.

Okoye is the youth development facilitator for the Dallas County Children’s Policy Council. The council is chaired by District Court Judge Nathaniel Walker. It functions as a sort of catch-all social services organization for youth, especially those youths who have run afoul of the system.

Working with Alabama CareerLink Center, the state employment office and elements of the local community, Okoye takes those youths who have little or no work experience &045;&045; and a rash of obstacles that threaten to keep them from ever getting any &045;&045; and tries to move them into the ranks of the gainfully employed.

It isn’t easy.

Many of the young people Okoye works with are angry. Many are born and raised in single-parent homes. They grow up in a society willing to spend five or six times as much to incarcerate them as it does to educate them. Then that same society inundates them with messages glorifying the material, while at the same time denying them the wherewithal to satisfy even their most basic needs.

Even when Okoye is able to reach out and make contact with such a young person, his job is really just beginning. He must then &uot;beat the pavement&uot; and try to convince business owners that it’s in their best interest to give that young person a chance to prove himself.

Okoye works with young people 14 to 21 years of age. Some of them are merely having trouble finding that first job. Others may have dropped out of school or be having trouble at home. Still others have had an early brush with the law.

The process starts with Okoye winning their trust. The carrot he is able to dangle in front of them is the lure of a steady paycheck and the self-respect that comes with it.

After a street-tough kid lets his guard down enough to admit he’d really like to have a job but he doesn’t know how to get one, Okoye must then call upon his greatest skills as a negotiator. After he lures a kid off the street, Okoye must then break the news to him gently that he’s not yet ready for the job market big time.

First, they’ve got to lay the ground work.

Okoye starts by certifying his prospects with the state employment service. Certification consists of providing proof of identity and proof of income.

Then he works with CareerLink to get them ready for the marketplace. &uot;It’s not just about finding jobs,&uot; Okoye says. &uot;It’s about job readiness skills.&uot;

For some, that may mean something as simple as teaching them how to write a resume or how to fill out a job application. For others, it may mean helping them to go back and get a GED or learn to read. For almost everyone, it means learning how to master the dreaded job interview.

The position of youth development coordinator was made available through funding from the Alabama Department of Children’s Affairs and the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs.

Tina Price is the director of the Central Alabama Neighborhood Development Organization, which operates as the non-profit entity that is the fiscal conduit of the Children’s Policy Council.

Reversing that trend will be difficult, she adds, and will involve addressing many different aspects of the community. &uot;Our reading levels for grades 9, 10 and 11 are kind of low,&uot; she points out. &uot;That’s one of the things we’d like to see improve.&uot;

For Price and Okoye, it’s slow, painstaking work. Success is measured one kid at a time.

Editor’s note: Youth Development Facilitator Chudy Okoye may be reached at 874-2557. His office is located at 104 Lauderdale St.