KENOSHA — Kenosha County figured out a way to get more teens working and fewer of them behind bars.
A mentor recommended 16-year-old Armon Harris for the county's Summer Youth Employment Program.
"I thought it was pretty cool to get the work experience of being punctual and being there on time," said Harris.
Harris was placed with the Boys and Girls Club. The organization ended up hiring him at the end of the summer. Harris doesn't think he would have found a job without the program.
"Probably not. Because I had no experience whatsoever. This is my first job," said Harris.
The county helps about 200 kids get jobs every summer. Donna Rhodes heads up the program.
"We are taking at-risk youth who don't have the skills or support that's needed to find unsubsidized employment, and we're giving them their first real job," said Rhodes.
This is a referral-based program. Counselors, social workers and case managers recommend applicants. They have to be between 14 and 21 and considered at risk. This could mean they're struggling in school, involved in the court system, teen parents or disabled. Mentors help with interviewing skills, and they are put to work.
"So they have done everything from build split rail fences, the fence around the beer garden at Petrifying Springs, the dog park at Silver Lake Park," said Rhodes.
Before Kenosha started the program, there were 1,140 juvenile arrests in the city over the summer. Ten years after the program started, there were just over 290 arrests, a 74% decrease. The numbers make County Executive Jim Kreuser proud.
"We are taking at-risk youth who don't have the skills or support that's needed to find unsubsidized employment, and we're giving them their first real job." — Donna Rhodes
"To try to target juvenile crime and the entrance into gang activity and to be role models in their own families and neighborhoods," said Jim Kreuser.
"They learn how to get up in the morning, how to be there on time, open a bank account."
County leaders said other communities have reached out and are thinking about implementing similar programs.
Click here to learn more about the Kenosha County Job Center.
Click here to check out the Youth Job Center.
Click here to learn about Students Without Limits.