News & Resources

News and Resources

Youth, Advocates and Elected Leaders Rally at City Hall for Jobs Program

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Campaign Launches Effort to Create 100,000 Summer Youth Jobs

New York, NY (May 20, 2014) – Today supporters of the City’s Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) spoke out about the current youth unemployment crisis and their desire to see the successful jobs program expanded. The six-week, minimum-wage part-time program is open to youth between the ages of 14-24, with some 36,000 participating each summer. However, advocates from the Campaign for Summer Jobs point to the 100,000 other youth who are turned away from the program every year for lack of funding.

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.”

Nancy Wackstein reflects on the biennial conference of the International Federation of Settlements

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

I’m very glad I went to Vancouver last week!

Last week I journeyed across the continent to beautiful Vancouver in British Columbia, the westernmost province of Canada.  The reason I went was to participate in the biennial conference of the International Federation of Settlements, a worldwide group of nonprofit organizations (typically called NGOs, or non-governmental organizations in countries outside the USA) that do similar work to the settlement houses and community centers of New York City that are members of the organization I lead, United Neighborhood Houses of NY.    In other places – Canada and Europe for example – most typically these organizations are called neighbourhood houses or neighbourhood centres.

I have to confess that I hardly ever go to professional conferences, jaded New Yorker that I am, as they take up a lot of time, cost a lot of money and very rarely turn out to be worth these expenditures in terms of knowledge gained or professional relationships created. But I must say, I was glad I went to Vancouver! 

Why?  There was a powerful and consistent theme running throughout the three full days of this conference, and it brought me back, in some way, to the very roots of our settlement house “place-based” work.  The theme – in short - was how important the authentic engagement of neighbors in the work of every community-based nonprofit organization truly is, and how much we’ve lost our way as many agencies have moved toward a “service delivery” model.

Too often we who run organizations that serve forget to genuinely involve neighbors, community residents, clients or do so as an afterthought.  Too often we give lip service to the views of the people who use our services but then go our own way when it comes to program planning and proposal writing. Too often we say we engage in community-building activities but we forget the first principle of successful community organizing, to listen to and engage the members of the community.  Too often we come to believe our own jargon: we say we use “strengths-based” or “assets-based” approaches but fail to see the potential contributions of society’s marginalized people, those with mental illness or dysfunctional families… or who are just poor.

In workshop after workshop in Vancouver I felt and heard the message that this must change and it really resonated with me.  Without genuinely involving the people who are affected by our policies and programs we will ultimately fail or simply become passive arms of government.  Conversely, when we work hard to involve community members in our work – and it is surely time-consuming, underfunded and just plain hard to do so – we ultimately will have agencies that better fulfill their missions and are more creative and innovative as well. 

A brilliant conference plenary speaker, John McKnight, Professor Emeritus at Northwestern University, noted that the goal of organizations like ours should be to try to “move people from clients to citizens” by helping to uncover their capacities.  To look at what can they teach us and what agendas they can help us set.  McKnight asked: how can we “enable their power to give” vs. “serving” them?  In essence, how can we who have defined ourselves as service providers “help ordinary people become extraordinary?”  I just love that notion.  And I thank my colleagues from around the world who gathered in Vancouver last week for reminding me of these basic and essential truths.

Settlement House Day

Friday, April 18, 2014


On Friday, April 11, United Neighborhood Houses (UNH) hosted the first-ever Settlement House Day, an all-day conference for staff from UNH’s 38 member agencies. Over 200 attendees convened at University Settlement’s Houston Street Center for workshops, panel discussions, and networking opportunities to help develop new skills and connect with the settlement house movement.

The theme of the day was the “Settlement House Advantage”, addressing the innovative ways in which settlement houses help New York City’s residents. The conference offered 15 panels, with topics including: utilizing older adults as valuable resources, models for using arts and culture to build community, how to increase healthy food access, and running a successful capital campaign, and more. Calling upon the strength of the UNH network, all the panelists were settlement house staff, sharing strategies in community engagement and service delivery in all five boroughs. 

A lunchtime session, “How Are We Doing: A Sneak Peek at Research Documenting the Settlement House Advantage”, introduced a unique collaboration between a working group of UNH member Associate Executive Directors and an external researcher, Dr. Mimi Abramovitz from the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College to quantify the impact of settlement houses on their surrounding communities. 

Nancy Wackstein, UNH Executive Director, said, “The impetus for all of us at UNH and for all of the volunteer panelists to come together for Settlement House Day  was to do something that would give the staff of settlement houses, who work day in and day out in their communities, a sense that they are appreciated and that the work they do is extremely valuable.”

Special thanks to Aramark for graciously donating food and beverage for this event.



UNH responds to FY 15 State Budget

Monday, March 31, 2014

Although there remains tremendous unmet need in services for New York City’s children, youth, immigrants and older adults, United Neighborhood Houses is pleased that the NYS FY2015 budget includes several positive investments that will improve the lives of residents in vulnerable and low income communities. The investment of $300 million to make Universal Pre-K truly universal in New York City is a historic victory for New York City's children and families. In addition, the $34m expansion in the Child Care Block Grant (CCBG) will also help ensure that parents are able to go to work while their children are in safe settings. We are encouraged by the $5m increased investment in the Community Services for the Elderly (CSE) program which will allow greater numbers of older adults to age with dignity in their homes, and also applaud the $1m expansion to the Settlement House Initiative, which provides settlement houses with the flexibility to meet evolving community needs.

However, UNH is deeply disappointed in the failure of leadership that resulted in the DREAM Act not being included in the final budget. As a result, thousands of immigrant youth without documentation through no fault of their own will continue to face significant financial barriers to pursuing a higher education after succeeding in high school. This represents a missed opportunity for New York to capitalize on their talents and potential. In addition, by not investing greater resources in Adult Literacy Education (ALE) and the transition from the GED® to the Common Core-aligned TASC™ examination, immigrants seeking to improve their English skills, and other adult education students hoping to earn their high school equivalency diploma will continue to face class shortages.

Also of significant concern to UNH is the nominal increased investment in the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP). While the $2.5m increase will help retain some youth jobs, thousands more will be lost in NYC at a time when over 100,000 youth in the City are already turned from the program annually, as the State did not fully account for the impact of the increased minimum wage on the program.

Email Eling Tsai at etsai@unhny.org for more information.
www.unhny.org

City Seeks AfterSchool Providers

Thursday, March 20, 2014


Buoyed by the state legislature’s preliminary approval of funds last week, city officials are wasting no time in pushing ahead with plans to expand after-school programs for tens of thousands of middle school students starting in September.

The city is accepting proposals from organizations to provide new after-school programs for nearly 55,000 middle school students, at an estimated yearly cost of more than $131 million, according to an RFP released by the city. The new programs will nearly double the number of middle school students eligible to participate in an after-school program.

Read the full article here.

Advocates Applaud NYC's UPK and After School Plan

Thursday, March 13, 2014


Advocates applauded Mayor Bill de Blasio's plan to expand full-day Universal Pre-Kindergarten and afterschool programs for middle school students, as well as the end to NYC's yearly "budget dance", during City Council budget hearings yesterday.  However, representatives of The Campaign for Children, a coalition of over 150 New York City provider and advocacy organizations, also citing a number of critical concerns which could threaten early childhood and after-school programs unless addressed quickly.  Among their concerns are funding rate discrepancies between Out of School Time programs supported by different funding streams, missing summer program allocations in the FY2015 budget and expiring one-year contracts in need of extensions.  The group also cited its Campaign for Children Transition Plan as a roadmap for developing a high-quality, universal system of early childhood and after-school programs.

“We are greatly encouraged by the growing recognition of the importance of after-school," said Gregory Brender of United Neighborhood Houses (UNH). "UNH strongly supports New York City’s plan to expand after-school programs for middle school students through a modest, targeted tax increase.   Many young people and parents from UNH member agencies have visited Albany, made phone calls and organized in their communities to support New York City’s plan.  We are thrilled that many members of the City Council have been lobbying for the plan and that the resolution supporting New York City’s plan passed with an overwhelming margin.  

Read the full article here! 

Gregory Brender Discusses UPK on BronxTalk

Monday, March 03, 2014
UNH Policy Analyst Gregory Brender was a guest on BronxTalk to discuss Universal Pre-K in New York City. Click here to watch the broadcast!

Will Lawmakers Approve Funds for Summer Jobs?

Thursday, February 27, 2014

"Even though an increase in the minimum wage is a good thing for hard working families, it also means now we need even more money to keep the same amount of jobs," says Kevin Douglas, a policy analyst at United Neighborhood Houses and co-chair of the Campaign for Summer Jobs. "If we don’t get additional funding, there will be about 2,750 fewer jobs for teens."

image by TaxCredits.net

On January 28, Douglas and other advocates went to Albany with 250 teens to try to convince state legislators to approve a $35 million budget for SYEP, which would enable the program to employ the same number of youth as it did last year. The teens told legislators how having SYEP jobs in years past had helped them earn money for things like college applications and got them the work experience they needed to be hired elsewhere.

Read the full article here! 

The Daunting Logistics of the Pre-K Plan

Friday, February 07, 2014
UNH Executive Director Nancy Wackstein comments on the need for Universal Pre-K in New York City's communities and addresses some of the logistical challenges to implementing the Mayor's plan. 

“There’s hardly any community you go in that doesn’t have a big need for pre-K,” said Nancy Wackstein, the executive director of United Neighborhood Houses, a coalition of 38 community organizations, many of which currently provide pre-K and are willing to increase their capacity under the mayor’s plan. "What it will require is all the city agencies pulling together to make it happen, and to expand in many cases. We in the nonprofit sector are sometimes the victim of slow city processes.”

Read more here>>

Annetta Seecharran Discusses NYC's Nonprofit Infrastructure on BronxTalk

Monday, December 16, 2013
 Annetta Seecharran, UNH Director of Policy and Advocacy, was a guest on BronxTalk (along with Ken Small of UNH member BronxWorks) to discuss the strong nonprofit infrastructure in New York City and the need for resources so nonprofits can effectively respond to community needs. 

Watch the interview here!