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An estimated 40,000 young people in St. Louis are unemployed — STL Youth Jobs is trying to fix that

Hillary Frey, Maria Clay and Melanie Kenny discussed youth employment on St. Louis on the Air.
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio
Hillary Frey, Maria Clay and Melanie Kenny discussed youth employment on St. Louis on the Air.

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No matter the experience, whether lifeguarding at the pool, busing tables at a local restaurant or doing odd jobs around the neighborhood, summer jobs in our youth hold a special, nostalgic place in the lives of many Americans. But finding those jobs, which give the young employee important work experience going forward in life, is not as easy as it once was.

It is estimated that about 40,000 young people in the St. Louis region are unemployed and not in school. That’s according to STL Youth Jobs executive director Hillary Frey. The non-profit organization, which is entering its third season, is dedicated to helping 16 to 24-year-olds from struggling St. Louis city and county neighborhoods find summer employment.

“Our organization exists to provide an opportunity for young people in St. Louis to receive paid work experience, training, skills and education opportunities to not only get them in a first-time job, but giving them an additional opportunity to develop a longer-term career path,” said Frey. “This happens in the summer months, a time of year that is difficult for young people to find opportunities to keep them successful.”

Last year, the program worked with 200 businesses in both the city of St. Louis and St. Louis County in 14 different industries such as restaurants, corporations, community-based stores, government, retail and others.

Joining Frey in studio were two people, an employer and employee, who were matched through STL Youth Jobs program: Melanie Kenny, human resources director of Baileys Restaurants, and Maria Clay, who now works as a hostess at Rooster.

“These are youth that would be applying for jobs without the support of the program anyway, but the program makes them valuable as employees,” said Kenny. “I know they are getting soft skills that are valuable to the employer. They get good advice and support of how to be an employee for the first time.”

For Clay, she started the program with four days of training and a summer internship busing tables at Rooster. Now, she works at Rooster full-time as a host.

“I actually liked it: working with others and communicating,” said Clay of her first work experience. “The classes that we took for the program teach you how to manage your money, how to save, working with others, communicating, schedules, getting up on time.

Kenny, who hired Clay, said she was immediately impressed by her poise.

“She has a wonderful, warm presence and I knew that would be a great asset at our host stand,” Kenny said. It should be noted that Rooster on South Grand is hosting a job fair today from 3-6 p.m. for other prospective employees.


Frey hopes the STL Youth Jobs program helps young employees get their foot in the door, but also introduces them to their next job or even a future career. Developing the skills and confidence to apply for jobs and go through the process of obtaining a job will be important no matter where young people go on to work.

She also knows the impact not having a job can make on a young person: “They’re more prone to crime and violence, more likely not to stay in school, more likely not to get a higher-paying job at a livable wage,” Frey said.

If you’re interested in working with STL Youth Jobs as either an employee or an employer, you can find more information on the organization’s website here.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region. 

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Kelly Moffitt joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 as an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio's talk shows St. Louis on the Air.
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