Earlier in the week Memphis Mayor A C Wharton was among those who enjoyed the hospitality as the White House played host to a memorable Memphis music tribute.
So, it's quite possible when President Barack Obama asked him to be listen in on a teleconference with other mayors on Thursday, he already knew the subject matter. Wharton as a country music lover might have silently hummed to himself the classic, "Here's a Quarter, Call Someone Who Cares."
Waiting on a business conference call can often create anxiety. But, judging by the rather ho-hum look on Mayor Wharton's face, you might never guess who'd be on the other end when the call finally came.
"Hello, everybody. This is Barack Obama."
So, why wouldn't an upbeat greeting from the President of the United States not illicit even a hint of excitement inside the mayor's city hall conference room? Especially, since the topic of discussion was the offer of federal help to encourage communities to create more summer jobs for the nation's youth.
"You get young people in the habits of work early and they keep working," the president said on the conference call. "If you lose them early, often times it's very hard to get them back."
The President is offering to expand the summer jobs plus program aimed at partnering business and government to work together in finding summer employment and mentorships for thousands of children. Part of the offer is to provide a "tool kit" of information, company contacts and an unspecified financial enhancement to those who participate.
"What we found is that where this works best is where you've got strong local commitment and strong local partnerships and the great thing about mayors and county executives is people know you," the President said.
With that and a few testimonials from mayors on hand at the White House to sing the program's praises over the phone, the conference was over. Now it came time for a previously silent Mayor Wharton to issue a reality check.
Thanks, but, no thanks, Mr. President.
"What we're focusing on in Memphis is getting them ready, not necessarily putting them on a job," the mayor said. "Because in many instances the jobs were basically 'make work' kind of stuff, which gave the children the wrong impression of what work is all about."
But, wait a minute, Mr. Mayor. Isn't any job better than none in a state where youth summer employment is among the lowest in the nation? Granted, after a 2009 city hall debacle found a number of employed teens rightfully grousing about not being paid for their work, Mayor Wharton moved to insure it wouldn't happen again.
From the ashes, rose the "Ambassador Program" in which 2,500 children had to enter a lottery to be placed in 500 available jobs in a year round program that included fitness training and community service. It was soon joined by the federally funded "win program" focused on readying 400 students for college and the work force.
Mr. Wharton says he has high hopes a new arrangement with the Cigna company will provide more than just briefly filled young bellies this summer.
"A summer lunch program where kids will be brought into environments where they'll not simply run and grab a lunch, there will be someone to talk to them about healthy living, how to develop job skills," he said.
So, it was good to hear your voice Mr. President, but, maybe next time, hope you don't mind if we pre-screen the nature of your call first.
WHBQ-TV | Fox 13
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