A Partnership for Youth Internships
Real Life Experience
County Supervisor Sheila Stubbs addresses the gathering (c) while
Madison Mayor Paul Soglin (l-r), CUNA’s Steve Goldberg, Boys &
Girls Club’s Michael Johnson, Tim Metcalfe and United Way’s Keetra
business. He then explained the summer internship program they had in arrangement with the Boys & Girls Club. That in turn led me to
ask him would he expand his work into other private businesses and inspire them to do it. And at the same time, it gave us greater
connections with the Boys & Girls Club and several other agencies. The point of all of this is that on the surface, we see the programming
activities, which have an impact. But there are also these connections that come from these organizations working together that lead to
things like this.”
What Soglin is referring to is a public/private partnership spearheaded by the Boys & Girls Club to provide summer internships to 160
Madison youth that was announced May 8 at CUNA Mutual. The city of Madison will be providing 21 internships and Dane County will
provide three with the rest being funded by private sector companies. These positions will have an immediate impact on these youths’
“The most significant part of it is the experience that they are going to gain,” Johnson said. “Those kids collectively will make a bunch of
money that they will able to plug right into our local economy. They will be able to help their parents pay bills. Some of our kids are in
college and they have to pay tuition or debt that they owe. We want to place them in jobs that will potentially lead to a career and our
business community stepped up in a major way.”
The experience that these students will receive is real and will potentially be life-altering. Who knows where Johnson might be today if he
didn’t have the opportunity for meaningful work experience when he was a youth.
“I learned how to come to work on time,” Johnson said. “I got sales experience. I learned how to work together as a team. I worked in a
grocery store. So I learned about retail. I learned about inventory. I learned about cash management and all of that stuff made a difference.
When I started earning money, I never wanted to be unemployed. So I’ve been working almost every day since I was 13-years-old.”
These are not skills that Johnson would have learned at home or in school. For many of these youth, this will be their first experience in
the labor market, one from which they will positively learn from their failures as well as their success.
“At the grocery store that I worked in, it was a big business,” Johnson said. “It was a little bit smaller than Metcalfe’s Market. I moved up
from being a store clerk, bagging stuff in the basement of the store, doing inventory to running the entire store by the time I was 17-years-
old. And the owner of the store pretty much trusted me. There were some weekends when that store was pulling in $100,000 in revenue.
And I would take all of that money with me to the owner’s house. I know that Fridays and Saturdays were his busiest days. It was a liquor
store too. He sold a lot of liquor and made a lot of money. He did a lot of public relations in our community. I learned a little bit about that. I
learned the inventory, the cash management and supervising people. I worked with public relations firms and put out ads. I learned a lot
of that stuff through my internships. While I knew that I never wanted to be a grocery store owner, some of the things I do now is what I
learned working in that grocery store, meeting with people and meeting with them on time. Public relations are something that we all
have to do. I learned how to supervise people and manage resources. Whether you are in a non-profit or a for-profit, you have to know
how to manage those resources.”
Since the program was announced, the Boys & Girls Club has received additional inquiries about possible internship sites. And a state
legislator suggested that Johnson look to have some of the youth interning at the state capitol next year. This year’s program is meeting
only a part of the need that is out there.
“I can tell you that our goal is that every teenager who wants a job should have a job,” Soglin said. “We’ve grown up to 160 positions
between the public and private sectors. You heard a stated goal of 1,000. I think if we can create 1,000 positions, we’ll be very close to
ensuring every teenager of having a position. We may not even have to get that far.”
During the 1970s and 1980s, the Madison community provided work experience to hundreds of low-income youth. Hopefully, this
private/public partnership will meet and exceed that legacy.
By Jonathan Gramling
Back when he was growing up in Chicago, the federal
government was still in the business of providing grants
through the CETA and the Jobs Training Partnership Act to give
low-income youth job-related experience during the summer.
Times have changed.
“I had a job almost every summer,” said Michael Johnson, CEO
of the Boys & Girls Club. “If you wanted to work, there was
someplace to work. Those opportunities are gone for young
During Madison Mayor Paul Soglin’s first term in the 1970s,
publically-funded summer youth training programs were in
operation on the local level. Those are gone now too.
Back in 2012, Soglin attended the Boys & Girls Club’s
Thanksgiving meal. It started a chain reaction of events.
“While I was there, I met Paul Tonnesen, the CEO of Fiskars,”
Soglin said. “That led to me going out and doing a visit to their