Intentionally or not, Luis Moreno has become the face of a program.
When City of Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner recently announced the return of the Hire Houston Youth Program for 2021 during a press conference at Workforce Solutions-Northline Office, Moreno was prominently recognized as one of its success stories.
Starting with the “Grow Your Own” program with the city’s Human Resources Department, the University of Houston Political Science graduate landed an interview with the Mayor’s Office of Education and was able to successful parlay that experience into a full time job as the community engagement liaison for the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities.
His two-year internship with the Mayor’s Office paid off handsomely for him. “I gained a lot of experience, connections and lessons,” Moreno said. “When an opportunity came at the City of Houston, I was able to apply, and here I am today.”
Opportunity. That word was exactly what the mayor was hoping to create for the 16-24-year-old demographic when Hire Houston Youth began six years ago.
Brandon Denton, assistant director of education, Mayor’s Office of Education, said youth employment programs have been instrumental in the development of young people, their work ethic, skillsets, knowledge, and work experience, especially work that is being done during the idle summer months.
“The community benefits are even greater as having a job decreases the amount of crime and violent activity that might exist, contributing to greater and healthier public safety practices,” Denton said. “In turn, youth have money in their pockets, they have meaningful work, and they’re contributing to society in a positive and productive manner.”
Flanked by various city officials, council members and business partners, Turner said the impact of keeping youth away from criminal activities and improving academic and societal outcomes is a driving force behind the success of the HHY program.
“The long and arduous pathway from childhood to the workforce has many significant obstacles that can prevent a youth from succeeding, and this is particularly true for our most vulnerable youth, our Black and brown youth.” he said.
“We recognized that in order to develop a meaningful and engaging program, we needed to meet the students where they are and connect them with resources of what they need in order to succeed.”
Moreno agrees. He continues to advocate and the highlight the pros of getting involved with the Hire Houston Youth Program to area youth.
“I try to get them opportunities to grow themselves. Some people just need an opportunity, and thankfully this is a great opportunity for people looking for it,” he said.
Turner said he was excited to see the return of the program following the 2020 COVID pandemic that dramatically impacted it.
“2020 was challenging, and like most of you, I was disappointed that we were not able to reach our target goals, but this year, we’re back and I am proud to announce that our emphasis on our youth is even greater now than before,” Turner said.
Prior to COVID, the HHY program grew from offering 450 jobs total in 2015 to more than 10,000 jobs in 2019. The city had planned to offer 20,000 jobs in February of 2019 before the pandemic occurred.
“It was devastating to the program, but we persisted,” Juliet Stipeche, director, Mayor’s Office of Education, City of Houston, explained. “City Council still allowed funding allocation for the City Summer Jobs Program, and even though it was not a banner year, it was transformative in forcing us to think creatively and innovatively.”
Stipeche said Turner wants to allow young people to be part of Houston’s economy by engaging early and allowing the companies to see the talent the local community produces.
“It’s a win-win both for the youth and for local companies and businesses. We are extraordinarily grateful to all of our partners and our local businesses,” she said.
The program also is not just limited to white collar work, Stipeche said. “Hire Houston Youth is multi-faceted. We want to be as diverse and energetic as the Houston economy itself.
“We offer opportunities for young people to be exposed to positions in municipal government, high skills areas from the companies that participate, jobs from McDonald’s to NASA to Boeing. You have a wide array of various opportunities for young people to be able to learn what field or area suits their passions, interests and dreams.”
Turner said he met with the Mayor’s Youth Force Council last spring and urged them to “create innovative strategies and unique opportunities to implement a youth employment program despite the virus.” While other cities canceled their youth employment programs, the City of Houston simply re-adapted.
“I am calling on all of our employers, small and large, those from the public and private sector… to partner with us to expose, prepare and provide meaningful work experiences for our youth,” he said.
Denton also said the companies that are involved with the program also benefit, as they’re receiving an intern that will be skilled and ready to work, helping companies and nonprofits build capacity, manage programs and responsibilities, all while solving some of Houston’s greatest issues.
Dave Moss, board member of the McDonald’s Owners of Greater Houston, has played an integral role to developing HHY. “Being one of the founders that started the program with the city of Houston is so important for us to give opportunities for the young people out there that there are no opportunities for them,” he explained.
Moss said HHY is not your typical hiring program, adding that it also includes training that teaches young people how to get a job.
“We have partnered with Metro to provide bus passes to give them transportation to get them to their jobs. We have partners if they need clothes or any assistance… we have resources available to help them get those resources and remove all the barriers they may have, especially the ones trying for their first jobs” he said.
“The most important thing is how rewarding it is to offer a young person a job, to give them that opportunity that they don’t have without going through our program,” Moss said.
Turner said the City of Houston will be hiring up to 500 youth itself this summer. Visit website to sign up at https://hirehoustonyouth.org/youth/.