From the back of the YOU Boston conference room, Khalif McCloud raised his hand to share his thoughts.

“Without YOU, I’d still be the street person I was before,” he said. “Without this program, there’s a lot of strife out there. It’s hard.”

His peers nodded in agreement. They were young, all 18-24, from high-risk backgrounds. Some had been incarcerated or court-involved. But because of the program they were here to celebrate, Professional Pathways, they were also something else entirely: successful young interns in city government.

A groundbreaking initiative launched by Mayor Walsh in November, Professional Pathways places high-risk youth in six-month, paid internships in different departments across Boston city government. The goal is simple: Provide young people with a viable career alternative to a violent life on the streets.

“We’re intervening in cycles of violence that have been going on for decades,” said Kimberly Pelletreau, director of YOU Boston, which runs the program in collaboration with the Mayor’s Office of Public Safety Initiatives.

Through their internships, participants gain exposure to a professional office environment and essential workplace skills – an introduction to the professional workforce that their histories might have otherwise precluded.

Raquawn in profile
Raquawn Givens talks with other interns at the Professional Pathways celebration.

Raquawn Givens, 20, for example, had never used Microsoft Excel, let alone worked in an office, prior to his internship with the Boston Elections Department. He said he couldn’t believe his luck when he was admitted to the internship program, which he worked while attending UMass-Boston full-time.

“It definitely separates me from the rest of the people in my neighborhood,” said Givens, who is from Roxbury. “A lot of people don’t get offers like that. When I tell people I work in City Hall, they say, ‘That’s good, that’s good!'”

Crucially, Professional Pathways offers its participants rewards for both their present and their future. The internships pay $12 an hour for roughly 25 hours of work per week. When they complete the program, the interns gain new networks, professional references, and resume highlights that can help them land their next job.

In fact, on the strength of their work, many of the interns, including Givens, were hired on by their departments at the conclusion of their internships. Of the 14 program participants, 11 have either obtained private sector placement or are slated for extended internships leading to full-time employment.

That was cause for celebration at last week’s banquet at YOU headquarters, where Professional Pathways leaders and participants reflected on what it meant to have proven themselves and the program a success.

Conan Harris, deputy director of the Mayor’s Office of Public Safety Initiatives, said that while some city departments were initially uncertain of the new program, now “City Hall is already saying, ‘We want summer interns.'”

Devin shaking hands
Devin Edwards shakes hands with fellow intern Raquawn Givens.

Devin Edwards, 22, is three months into his internship at Boston’s Health & Human Services, where he manages the schedule of department head Felix Arroyo and takes phone calls from constituents and the press.

“I try to be the most outgoing, the most friendly, to make people aware of my presence in the office,” he said. “I do my good mornings, good afternoons and my good nights.”

He said the experience is teaching him how the city can help those less fortunate and has interested him in a career in public service. Given his career goal, you could say it’s also heightened his confidence.

Said Edwards, with a knowing smile, “I’m going to be the mayor in ten years.”

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