Campaign Launches Effort to Create 100,000 Summer Youth Jobs
Nancy Wackstein, Executive Director of United Neighborhood Houses of New York (UNH) stated, “With 100,000 youth turned away every year from the Summer Youth Employment Program, the City must do more. We know well the benefits of helping young people to engage in a positive work experience over the summer months: it’s good for them, good for their families, good for their communities and good for the economy. As a leader of the Campaign for Summer Jobs for the past fifteen years, UNH looks forward to working with the new administration and City Council to expand SYEP to serve 100,000 youth by 2018.”
Gigi Li, Co-Chair of the Campaign, said her organization, the Neighborhood Family Services Coalition (NFSC), is fully behind the effort: “NFSC is proud to embark on a 5 year expansion plan to reach 100,000 SYEP slots in 5 years. Reaching this goal will be a win-win-win for youth, families, and CBOs throughout all of our neighborhoods. These additional jobs represent investment in young people and economic development for communities throughout New York City.”
The vision of the Campaign is for the program to be able to serve at least 100,000 youth each summer, within the next five years, and they are calling on the Mayor and City Council to invest an additional $14.2 million this year as a first step. Many members of the City Council seem to agree the time is now.
“The young people of our communities understand the benefits of staying on a positive path and, when given an opportunity, will choose to participate in constructive activities rather than fall subject to negative influences on our streets. Our children want to work to be independent, to save for college, and to support their families,” stated Council Member Mathieu Eugene, Chair of the City Council’s Youth Services Committee. “The Summer Youth Employment Program is often the first time that many young New Yorkers are able to create a real resume, to gain work experience in a desired career field, and to be exposed to the routine of being fully employed. Investing in the Summer Youth Employment Program is an investment in the futures of our young people. I applaud the efforts of the Campaign for Summer Jobs and will continue to support them in their efforts to expand this program to more of our youth.”
Jennifer March, Executive Director of the Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York added “For the youth who are lucky enough to literally win the SYEP lottery, a summer job helps them gain critical work experience and learn about financial management, as well as provides them and their families with additional income that is then a boost to the local economy. A five year plan to reach 100,000 youth each summer is an immeasurable investment for today’s youth—who are tomorrow’s workforce.”
Recently the program faced the threat of fewer jobs as a result of declining federal and private support, as well as the recent hike in the state minimum wage. Although advocates say they supported the increase from $7.25/hr. to $8.00/hr., they say the increase also means more dollars are needed to maintain the jobs program.
Council Member Margaret Chin, a member of the Youth Services Committee, supports the effort to expand the program, and recalled her own days as a youth worker: “When I was seventeen, I participated in SYEP, so I know from personal experience the importance of having paid summer work experience. In today’s world, summer jobs have become a necessary experience for our young persons to learn important skills that will enable them to find employment after graduation. We are glad that the city and state have committed funds to continuing the Summer Youth Employment program this year, but it is important that the city, state, and private sector commit resources to begin expanding the program so that 100,000 youth can participate each year.”
Several youth leaders at the Campaign launch described the value of the program in their own words. Ricardo Luciano, a 17 year old senior at The Children's Aid Society's Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School, added “As a young person myself, I understand the importance of having a good resume to present to future employers. Every day, I see my peers struggle to find jobs. I see them struggle to be taken seriously. As young proactive adults, we want to be able to provide for not only ourselves, but for those we care for.”
Leaders from the City’s non-profit sector say they came together because they see the difference the program makes is real, and long term. Jennifer Jones Austin, CEO and Executive Director, Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies (FPWA) said “FPWA is proud to support the Campaign for Summer Jobs’ proposal to expand SYEP for our City’s young people. Given that youth between 16 and 24 years of age have been disproportionately impacted by unemployment, increasing investments in the SYEP program will help to propel them towards economic mobility and security. We strongly urge the City to embrace the expansion plan so we may reach the goal of 100,000 SYEP jobs over the next five years.”
Her remarks were supported by the testimony of one youth who says her SYEP experience led directly to additional employment. Stephanie Ruiz, a senior at Fort Hamilton High School who participated in SYEP through Center for Family Life in Sunset Park in the summer of 2013, now works for the agency: “After the summer, I got hired for the school year after school program, working in the office. During the school year more doors opened for me and I started working as an Assistant Group Leader. It changed the person I was for better. I learned how to communicate, how to work with and help kids, and how to really challenge myself. One of the most important skills I learned was leadership. I never thought that I would be a leader to anyone, and now I believe I am—I learned that I was capable of speaking out and to using my voice.”
In the City Council’s response to Mayor de Blasio’s first Preliminary Budget released in February of this year, they called on his administration to invest an additional $14.2 million in SYEP in order to create 10,000 new Summer Jobs. Underscoring the need for these resources, Council Member Laurie Cumbo, who sits on the Council’s Youth Services Committee, stated “The Summer Youth Employment Program empowers youth ages 14-24 to secure employment and obtain skills that they can utilize in their academic and professional careers. New York City youth and young adults rely on this program, which has undergone a steady decline of job opportunities. It is imperative that we preserve and expand the capacity of this program by increasing city, state, and federal funding to ensure that all of our youth can learn financial responsibility, contribute to the economic development of our city and state, while serving their communities.”
Council Member Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria) also supports the expansion, stating that “Summer employment is a major opportunity for growth among our youth population. I join my colleagues and all of the advocates here today in calling for the City's budget include all the 46,000 Summer Youth Employment slots so that children have the chance to both earn money and learn about responsibility over the summer."
With the Council and Mayor now engaged in budget negotiations that must yield a final agreement by July 1, 2015, the message from 20 year old Christina Lantigua, a group leader with one of SCO Family of Services’ summer camps is short and sweet: “So I ask you Council Members, go back to the Mayor, look over the budget and find the money to increase jobs in the Summer Youth Employment Program.”