Thanks to the federal stimulus, Friday, August 7, was payday for hundreds of urban youths. At least, it was supposed to be.
The teens had all found work this summer through UrbanFORCE, a program sponsored by the St. Louis Agency on Training and Employment (SLATE) that matches St. Louis residents, ages 14 to 24, with local businesses looking for workers. The young people would labor through the summer, and their wages would come from President Obama's stimulus package.
But on the afternoon of August 7, many of the teenagers leaving the Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church did not look happy.
"I didn't get paid," grouses nineteen-year-old Cepeda Whiteside. "I've worked at least 60 hours. I've got kids to take care of."
Seventeen-year-old Melissa Hill, a cell phone to her ear, explains: "They spelled my last name wrong, so now I can't cash my paycheck. How do you get Hikk out of Hill? They gave me this number to call to complain." A few moments later, she snaps the phone shut in disgust. "They gave me a fax number."
UrbanFORCE is one of the city's first beneficiaries of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. On April 24 Vice President Biden came to St. Louis and informed Michael K. Holmes, SLATE's executive director, and Alice Prince, the youth-services manager, that UrbanFORCE would be getting a substantial allotment, which would allow them to sponsor 1,611 workers, compared to the usual 300. Prince and Holmes were thrilled.
The only catch: They had to have the program up and running by June 4 — not a lot of time, considering they'd need to process 5,000 applicants and hire and train more than 50 staff members.
"There was no preparation," Holmes concedes. "Most of our staff was college students. They came home from school May 15, and then the legislature had to decide to accept the stimulus money, so we had to wait for the session to be over."
Nonetheless, dozens of businesses agreed to hire UrbanFORCE workers for six- and eight-week-long assignments. Students have been working for, among other places, KETC (Channel 9), the Union Station Marriott, Ameren, Operation Brightside, the St. Louis Department of Health and Monsanto.
"We tried to match our participants' interests with their career goals," notes Prince. Depending on their level of education, students earn between $7.25 and $12 per hour.
"It's the first job for a lot of the students," says Jami Dolby, SLATE's communications director.
This was obvious to some St. Louis employers such as Saba Cetawayo, a promoter and talent scout at Platinum Plus Recording Studio. He started with nine UrbanFORCE workers, but had to fire four of them.
"We had some disciplinary issues," he says. "You say, 'You got to sweep the floor,' but they were like, 'Ah, man, why do I have to do that, it's hot outside.'"
The real problems began, though, when paychecks started to arrive — or didn't. "The very first payday, they didn't get their check," says Cetawayo. "They had this negative perception, so a couple of them didn't show up for two or three days because UrbanFORCE didn't pay them. It took four weeks for them to get their checks, and that didn't help the mentality."
A memo issued by Prince on June 29 to the UrbanFORCE staff and affiliates acknowledged the lack of paychecks. "Rest assured the team is working overtime to find a quick solution," the memo stated. "Please tell all participants to continue to go to work. They will be fully compensated for their time."
Students with issues are encouraged to call UrbanFORCE, Dolby says, and a communications room has been set up at the Friendly Temple.
Kim Collins was at the Temple on August 7. "They didn't have any information or a check for me," she says. "They said to call back Monday. No one ever picks up the phone."
UrbanFORCE administrators prefer to focus on the positive aspects of the program. "You have to remember that we're growing, growing, growing," says Dolby. "This has really been a success. We're one of the best programs in the state. We have met and exceeded our goals."
—Aimee Levitt and Nicholas Phillips
Addresses! Get Your Cardinals Addresses!
You may recall the brouhaha that ensued last month when Riverfront Times published the home addresses of a handful of St. Louis Cardinals personalities in our 2009 All-Star Game special supplement. On August 11 someone forwarded me a link to a New York Times story that hit, uh, close to home.
Reporter Michael S. Schmidt writes that Jack Smalling, the 68-year-old author of The Baseball Autograph Collector's Handbook, has assembled the home addresses of almost 8,000 current and former major-league ballplayers.
Smalling's book, Schmidt informs us,
...goes out into a different world from earlier editions, one fearful of online and offline stalkers, and more protective of dwindling privacy. Just last month, Major League Baseball revoked the All-Star Game credentials of a St. Louis publication after it printed the home addresses of some current and former players.
But Mr. Smalling, laboring in his Ames basement, seems oblivious to the paranoia of the Internet age. "They are not buying the book to go see these people," he said. "They are just going to write them a letter."If you wanted to do any harm and go to their house and mess them up, you wouldn't need my book. You could just find it on your own."
You don't say!
Sure enough, Schmidt reveals, Mr. Smalling put his big list together the same way RFT put together our little one: via searches of public records. But whereas Mr. Smalling's hard work is rewarded by a tidy Times write-up, ours met with a castigating phone call from the Redbirds' media-relations crew and the revocation of our press credentials. That little spanking was followed by a flogging from the righteous vituperation engine that is the Internet. Some highlights:
"If he doesn't like having his credential taken away, perhaps Finkel would prefer Pujols and a couple of his Cardinals teammates get Finkel's address and follow him home."
"The ass hole needs to be fired!!!!!"
"Well, first of all for anyone out there who says that you can pick up a phone book and find out where these players live... are you that stupid? Really? Unlisted phone number, house purchased using a numbered company so no, it is not in the records. Finkel is a punk. The Riverfront Times is a shit hole paper."
Right after I post this, I'm gonna order me up a copy of The Baseball Autograph Collector's Handbook (a steal at only $22.50!).
Won't take but a jiffy — the New York Times was kind enough to publish Mr. Smalling's address.