Jobs fair gives St. Pete teens hope

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In an effort to get teenagers out of trouble and away from gun violence, a non-profit in St. Petersburg teamed up with McDonald's to offer a job fair for at-risk youth on Monday.

Lewis Stephens Jr., founder of 'I Support Youth,' organized the job fair held at  Parker Financial Services in South St. Petersburg. Prior to Monday, 82 teenagers signed up to interview for one of 50 positions at local McDonald's restaurants that would be filled on site.

"It makes a life difference, because not only do they have the responsibility at school, but outside of school, they have the responsibility now of a job. The more responsibility that a young person has, the more they'll stay out of trouble," said Stephens.

So far this year, two St. Pete teenagers, 18 and 15, lost their lives to gun violence.

In November and December alone of 2015, eight teens were shot. Seven of them died.

The shootings led St. Petersburg Police to hire Reverend Kenny Irby as a Community Intervention Director, in hopes of reaching youth before it's too late.

"They don't see hope. They don't see anyway of funding themselves or supporting themselves outside of criminality," said Irby. This year, Irby has helped St. Pete initiate the 'Not My Son' campaign and a mentorship program called 'Men in the Making.' He said since launching the programs during the summer, St Pete Police have not had any new reports of teen-related gun deaths.

Some teens said the process of searching for jobs can be disparaging.

"It's a long waiting process. Basically, I'm told, 'We'll give you more information on your job application, or we'll hit you up in two weeks,' and basically, they never hit me back up," said 16-year-old Rolando Sims, who said he applied for various positions online for months prior to Monday's job fair.

"It's just the first job, so I'm trying anything to get one," said Sims.

Stephens said for teens who were not hired on Monday, his organizations plans to help them find internships and prepare them for future interviews.