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Wayne County officials on Thursday gave Detroit’s youth talent program a shot in the arm — a $700,000 donation.

In its second year, Grow Detroit’s Youth Talent program is designed to give youths an idea about work life through employment and job training.

Lavell Matthews, 17, of Detroit said the program has helped changed his life and can do the same for other kids his age.

“I think it helps kids stay off the streets,” he said. “It shows them the real world and that they can earn money for themselves and stay off the streets.”

Deputy Wayne County CEO Richard Kaufman said helping at-risk youths is a top priority for the county.

“It is important we provide at-risk youth the opportunity to understand the workforce and it is vital we expose them to opportunities to see their potential and positively contribute to our community,” he said.

Kaufman made the remarks during a Thursday news conference to announce the donation. The event was held at the offices of the Jenkins Construction Inc., located on Jefferson near Interstate 75 in downtown Detroit.

He was joined by Matthews, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, Jim Jenkins, president and CEO of Jenkins Construction, and several other county officials.

Kaufman said Wayne County Executive Warren Evans was initially scheduled to make the presentation but was unable after learning his mother died Wednesday night.

None of the donation comes from the county’s general fund, he said. Half of Wayne County’s donation comes from a state grant it received and the other half comes from the area’s philanthropic community, Kaufman said.

Jenkins, whose company participates in the program and provides jobs to youths, said he’s seen first-hand how much of difference a job can make in young people’s lives.

“I just tell you, giving an opportunity. That’s all they need,” he said. “Give these youth an opportunity and they will show you who they really are.”

Under the program, kids get 12 hours of “work readiness training” over six weeks. They work 20 hours a week and the program pays half of their wages from donations. The other half is paid by employers. Participants also get 24 hours more of “ongoing training” and bus passes to get to their jobs.

Last year, the program placed 5,594 youths in jobs, officials said.

In February, Detroit’s mayor challenged to businesses and foundations in the city to match 8,000 youths with jobs this summer.

Duggan welcomed the county’s donation on Thursday.

“When we started this last year, one of the very first people who called up and said, ‘I want to be part of this,’ was Warren Evans,” the mayor said. “This summer, with the help of Wayne County, we’re going to get to 8,000.”

He said the program has signed up 11,000 kids signed up to participate in this year’s program so far and about 7,800 funded jobs for them.

“I know for sure we’re going to get over 8,000,” the mayor said. “Next year, we’ll see if we can’t grow again.”

Matthews, who is taking courses at the Clintondale Virtual School, said he’s learned a lot from being in the Grow Detroit’s Youth Talent Program and recommends other kids in the city sign up for it.

“I think they should,” he said. “There a lot of opportunities out there.”

cramirez@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2058

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