Zavid Stroud, an incoming freshman at Bradford High School, focuses on painting the trim of a pavilion at Fox River Park. Stroud was one of roughly 125 youth who are participating in Kenosha County’s Summer Youth Employment Program this summer.

Another season of success: Kenosha County’s Summer Youth Employment Program in its 14th year

Program employs about 125 local youth who earned credit from KUSD


Kenosha County is located in the southeastern corner of the U.S. state of Wisconsin. Its population in 2019 was estimated to be 169,561, making it the eighth most populous county in Wisconsin. The county is named after the county seat, Kenosha, the fourth largest city in Wisconsin.

Some put their paychecks in the bank to save up for necessary life expenses as they become adults. Others help their families to get by. And, of course, some like to use their hard-earned money to treat themselves a bit.

No matter how they approach it, participants in Kenosha County’s Summer Youth Employment Program gain more than a little spending money.

Anayah Anderson, an incoming freshman at Bradford High School, uses a wire brush to scrape old paint during a soon-to-be refreshed swing set at Petrifying Springs Park. Kenosha County Parks are one of the key worksites in the Summer Youth Employment Program, now in its 14th season. 

The program, now in its 14th season, offers at-risk youth a productive way to spend time during the summer while teaching valuable work and life skills for the future.

“These youth are taking so much more than a paycheck from their experience with the program,” said Kenosha County Executive Samantha Kerkman. “They’re learning skills that will help them throughout their adult lives.”

The Summer Youth Employment Program represents a successful public-private partnership between Kenosha County, the Kenosha Unified School District, the Boys & Girls Club of Kenosha, Community Impact Programs and the participating worksites, said Donna Rhodes, Kenosha County Gang Intervention Supervisor.

Rhodes said the goals of the program include:

  • Improving employment skills and learning appropriate work conduct.
  • Developing strong work ethic and learning the value and pride of an honest day’s work.
  • Increasing knowledge of career interest.
  • Decreasing gang involvement and juvenile crime in the community.

Participants, ages 14-21, are referred by social workers, counselors or other professionals knowledgeable about their risk levels. Once in the program, they work 20 hours per week for eight weeks, earning $9 per hour. Kenosha Unified students also earn a half credit toward their high school graduation after completing the program and a related work-skills curriculum.

Kenosha County Executive Samantha Kerkman, Division of Children and Family Services Director Ron Rogers, and Boys & Girls Club of Kenosha CEO Tara Panasewicz talk with a crew of Summer Youth Employment Program workers at Fox River Park during a recent site tour. From left are Martel Lee, Olivia Wade, Dereon Hill and Zander Spino. 
During a recent tour of Summer Youth Employment Program worksites, Kenosha County Executive Samantha Kerkman talks with participants Amayah Houston, left, and Faith Longanecker. They are part of a Youth Employment in the Arts crew that is creating a large mural for public display and smaller pieces for businesses that support the program. 

About 125 youth are participating in the program this summer, stationed at mentor worksites representing government and private, nonprofit agencies, as well as private businesses.

Kenosha County itself is a user of the program, putting youth to work in the county parks.

Among other things, they are painting playground equipment and park shelters, weeding, mulching, and performing trail maintenance — tasks Parks Division staff do not have the time to perform amid their daily maintenance duties.

At Fox River Park, for example, a team of Summer Youth Employment participants restored a sand volleyball court that had become overgrown with grass and weeds.

Sam Nachtigal, an incoming freshman at Harborside Academy and one of the youth working on the team that revitalized the court, said making connections with new people is one of his favorite parts of working in the program.

“I’m going to get a job after this,” Nachtigal said. “I want to save up for a car.”

Amayah Houston, an incoming junior at Indian Trail High School, is spending her summer at an entirely different type of worksite, but her objective is similar to Nachtigal’s.

“I want to save for driver’s school, and for clothes for the new school year,” Houston said, of her plans for her summer earnings.

Houston is part of a team that worked on another annual beneficiary of the program: The Youth Employment in the Arts initiative, in which participants create a mural for public display in Kenosha County government facilities. They also paint smaller signage as a “thank you” to private businesses and other organizations that support the program.

“This program is just a wonderful example of public and private entities collaborating, all for the benefit of these youth and the community,” said Kenosha County’s Rhodes, who coordinates the Summer Youth Employment Program.

Kenosha County Summer Youth Employment Program workers restore a sand volleyball court in Fox River Park. In the county’s parks, these summertime workers perform many duties that parks staff do not have the time to complete amid their daily maintenance work. 

Rhodes also noted an important preventative benefit of the program: Summertime youth arrests have declined sharply during the years Summer Youth Employment has been operating — from 1,140 in 2008, to 117 in 2021.

At the current Wisconsin Department of Corrections daily rate of $1,178 for a minimum nine-month stay in juvenile corrections, one youth deferred from that system saves Kenosha County over $300,000.

“This program,” said Kerkman, “is a good investment in prevention and setting a positive path forward for many youth and families in our community.”