The week of the Republican National Convention started out on a local note for U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci, R-Wadsworth.
Monday marked the official launch of Empower Cleveland’s Youth, a program created to provide opportunities for urban high school students through mentorship.
“We’re going to try to make a difference in Washington, but really we’re going to make a difference here,” Renacci said.
The program, which was designed and implemented by the Cleveland Leadership Center, involves high school students selected by several nonprofit youth organizations. Though the official launch took place Monday, 20 students already are halfway through the six-week pilot program.
Two of the participants spoke Monday to a crowd gathered at the Cleveland headquarters of the law firm of Squire Patton Boggs in the Key Tower.
“It allows us to figure out what we want to do when we go to college,” Cleveland School of the Arts student Zharia Sanders said.
The program consists of three parts: leadership development activities, lunch with mentors and opportunities to shadow a variety of professionals in the workplace.
“We learned about the mistakes that they made on their pathway to success,” John Hay High School student Antoine Matthews said.
Renacci said he pitched the idea to Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson in what was supposed to be a 15-minute meeting.
“Fifteen minutes with the mayor turned into two hours,” he said.
After the program is over, the mentor relationships between business and community leaders and students is expected to continue. Students also may be able to continue shadowing professionals.
“We want to make sure this continues,” Renacci said. “They have to be alumni of the program in the future. They have to give back and pull forward.”
The program is expected to run again during the school year and each summer, but the details and structure may change depending on student feedback, Cleveland Leadership Center spokesperson Michael Bennett said.
Attorney Anthony Parker said he decided to pursue a legal career after he fell into a mentor relationship with a lawyer that he hired to represent him on a small claims case in Cleveland.
“We don’t want to leave those types of relationships to chance,” Squire Patton Boggs partner Frederick Nance said.
U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who also spoke in support of the program, agreed.
“The condition of your birth doesn’t determine the outcome of your life. That’s the American idea,” he said at the event. “But that’s not happening, is it?”
“The reason we are here in Cleveland — as one of two great political parties — is leaving it better off.”