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Obama surprises teens in his Youth Jobs Corps with visit at Chicago foundation
By Lolly Bowean
July 17, 2019
Former President Barack Obama made a surprise appearance at his foundation’s Chicago offices on Tuesday afternoon to welcome 13 teens participating in his youth job corps program.
During his roughly hourlong visit, Obama spoke with the high school students who are part of the work readiness program about their summer assignments and their experiences so far.
Unlike some of his past visits, this appearance was closed to the media, with Obama meeting in private with the teens and key foundation staff members.
The teens were gathered in a conference room, where they thought they were going to discuss their job training experiences with a member of the foundation brass. But then in strolled Obama, said Miaa Cheeks, who works at the foundation as part of the job corps.
“He opened the door and I was so surprised,” said the 17-year-old, a graduate of Kenwood Academy High School. “I thought, ‘I’m not about to cry in front of the (former) president.’
“He asked us where we were working and where we were going for school,” she said. “He said even though we may not be offered the same opportunities as others, we’ve been given this one. We have this open door and we can succeed.”
DaJuan Allen-Johnson, 18, of Marquette Park, called the meeting “meaningful.”
“Everything I’m doing was affirmed by him,” Allen-Johnson said. “He said we should all make smart failures. I’ve felt that when I make mistakes, I won’t come back from them. President Obama said we should know that we will be OK after making choices. Mistakes are a part of being human.”
The Obama Youth Jobs Corps is a partnership between the foundation and Urban Alliance to train high school students by placing them in internships and temporary jobs where they can be mentored and groomed. The initiative was launched in March 2018.
The students who are participating are mainly from the South Side.
The Obama Foundation is overseeing the development of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park on Chicago’s South Side. The $500 million project is expected to be a sprawling campus that includes a public library branch, museum, public meeting spaces and offices along with a landscaped outdoor park. There are also hopes that it will transform a community troubled by joblessness, poverty and violence.
But as construction on the center has been delayed, the foundation has focused on rolling out programs such as the Obama Fellows, Obama Scholars and the youth corps group.