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Major city-run youth programs to continue under new administration

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Two major city-run youth programs have the green light to continue, for now, from Mayor-Elect Jim Strickland.

The Office of Youth Services was pretty in pink Thursday. That was because 440 students in the Memphis Ambassadors Program, along with their parents, took to the streets for a cancer walk. They wore pink MAP shirts in honor of breast cancer awareness.

"It's an opportunity for us, again, to bring awareness to the many, many various types of cancer," said OYS Director James Nelson.

Now, with an commitment from Strickland, events like this can continue.

Strickland plans to continue the Memphis Ambassadors Program, which teaches leadership, and MPLOY, which is the city's summer jobs program for teens and young adults. A spokesperson for the mayor-elect said he would continue to monitor the programs.

That was welcomed news to the ambassadors at Thursday's event. They know several Office of Youth Services programs grew from a desire to curb youth violence.

"They didn't, you know, ask for the stuff they've been put in. It just happens for them. It's just their environment. You can't help anybody that's born into that environment, per se, but it can help them, because it just gets them into doing something productive," said Ambassador and 11th grader Darycka Brown.

"The kids really want something to do. They want structure," said parent Tiffany Welch.

Nelson said that at this point, the mayor-elect's commitment extends through June 30.

Last summer, MPLOY got off to a somewhat bumpy start due to a short time window to roll out the program. The city did not have much time to find businesses and non-profits willing to take on student workers.

Then, many young people selected for the program in a lottery did not respond to the city's offer to join. The city had to extend the offer to others.

Nelson said his office is already at work trying to make next summer smoother.

"We are working on recruiting businesses right now. Our website is up, and we have an application that's ready for business owners," Nelson said.

He says he's aware a new administration could wind up changing staff at his office, but he said that is not slowing anyone down right now.

"Of course, that could always happen, but right now, we have a commitment to keep working," Nelson said.

That continues all the way to student applications for the programs.

The Ambassadors Program will need a new pool of freshmen, since it is a grade nine through 12 program.

MPLOY will need an entirely new pool of workers for next summer.

The application process starts in December.

Strickland's recently-announced Transition Team includes a few people designated to look at youth issues. A representative for Strickland confirmed those leaders met for the first time Wednesday to discuss what is next.