Empowering Youth through Summer Employment

Relationships are at the heart of Incarnate Word Foundation’s mission and the charism of its founder, the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word.

This focus on relationship and solidarity prompted Bridget McDermott Flood, executive director of the Foundation, to envision STL Youth Jobs, a program started in 2012 that employs disenfranchised youth ages 16-24 in summer jobs in St. Louis, where the Foundation is located.

Serving as co-chair of a youth violence prevention task force for the mayor at the time, Bridget wanted to do something that had a direct, immediate benefit to St. Louis communities that have high rates of youth unemployment, poverty, juvenile crime, and low graduation rates – rather than producing a report that would “just sit on a bookshelf,” she explains. 

In a short five weeks, Bridget and her team at the Incarnate Word Foundation started what would become STL Youth Jobs, placing 63 youth in jobs for an investment of $75,000 that first summer. Fast-forward to this summer, and the program has grown exponentially to 800 jobs, has an over $1.8 million budget (Incarnate Word Foundation still invests $75,000 – a testimony to how the Foundation’s leadership has leveraged other funders), and a record of helping thousands of young people connect to the mainstream economy.  

STL Youth Jobs is one of the Incarnate Word Foundation’s most important projects, not only because of the program’s impressive outcomes. It also captures what Incarnate Word Foundation and Catholic foundations do best, explains Bridget. This includes the ability to leverage partnerships based on trust.

“One of the beautiful things about the Incarnate Word Foundation is that we are not worried about being featured at a press conference or promoting our brand. All we care about is that 800 kids had a job this summer,” Bridget says. “The community knows that as a Catholic foundation, we are dedicated to doing good. So people trust us.” 

STL Youth Jobs participants (97% of whom are African American young people) are marginalized by racism, segregation, and economic and employment obstacles – in addition to often negative portrayals in the media. Through STL Youth Jobs, the business community has built relationships with young people they otherwise would not have met in their neighborhoods or church. And now, employers are the youth’s biggest advocates. 

“Employment is relational,” explains Bridget. “The most important part of what we are doing is building relationships that will link young people in the city of St. Louis to full participation in the economy so they can live life with dignity and live to their potential.”

Incarnate Word Foundation joyfully hopes – and anticipates – that the seeds they planted and nurtured through STL Youth Jobs will continue to grow and expand well into the future. Bridget reflects, “In the words of Oscar Romero, ‘we are prophets of a future not our own.’”