The UNH Blog

Reflecting on Youth Action Day 2017

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

On January 25, 2017, United Neighborhood Houses brought staff, allies, and nearly 300 youth to Albany for the 17th annual Youth Action Day, where youth spoke (sometimes sang, sometimes laid down verse) about the importance of the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) in their lives. Then, youth and chaperones went from office to office, meeting with more than 160 legislative offices and explained how summer jobs helped their family make ends meet, how summer jobs showed them new career possibilities, how summer jobs showed them whole new ways of interacting with their communities.

 
SYEP is a statewide program that funds summer jobs for youth between the ages of 14 and 20. In New York City, state funds supplement City, federal, and private funds for a program that is open for 14- to 24-year-olds. The jobs are wide-ranging: youth work in summer camps, offices of elected officials, chain stores, parks, the fashion industry, cultural institutions, health care, and more.

 

Organizing Youth Action Day is a lot of work. Before the main event I was joined by colleagues as we trained hundreds of teens so they could be prepared to tell their personal stories, speak with elected officials, and explain the program. Hundreds of meetings were scheduled for the teens with elected officials as schedules were balanced and organized. Then, on Youth Action Day, it all came together. Youth explained to legislators that their jobs taught them how to handle adult responsibility. They talked about using their SYEP money to pay for school supplies. Teens elaborated about how they discovered passions for education, healthcare, and community service in general.

Statewide and citywide, demand for the program is higher than the supply of jobs. The State funded 18,746 SYEP jobs last year. New York City used its funding for 10,777 jobs, which combined with other funding sources to create 60,113 jobs in the summer of 2016. Approximately 6,000 youth outside of the City, however, were turned away from the program in the summer of 2015 (the year for which the most recently available statewide statistics are available). In 2016, while a record number of NYC youth took part in the program, 79,506 youth applied but didn’t get to take part. The program is not funded to allow every youth who wants a job to get one.

 

UNH has been successfully advocating for increases in SYEP funding for 17 years. Until the beginning of this century, the federal government funded the majority of summer jobs. That funding ended in 1999, giving birth to UNH’s tradition of Youth Action Day—nothing builds support for a program quite like hundreds of youth descending upon the State capital and making impassioned arguments directly to their lawmakers that the government support their desire to be productive in the summer.

With the support of thousands of youth through nearly two decades, UNH and allies have created reliable funding for SYEP from State and City funding sources. In 2012, the program was funded to provide 29,416 jobs to NYC’s youth. This summer, the City is projecting enough funding for 65,000 jobs.  

 

Each year I find Youth Action Day inspiring. It is one of many signs that, with some organizing and trust in the ability of young people to do serious advocacy work, we can make serious social change.



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UNH Statement on Executive Orders

Friday, January 27, 2017

As our nation’s new President begins to translate his vision into policy via the use of Executive Orders and the bully pulpit, United Neighborhood Houses stands with New Yorkers in rejecting attacks on our shared values of diversity, inclusion, and acceptance. In particular, the President’s Executive Orders on immigration and his anticipated actions regarding refugees are an affront to the contributions millions of immigrants have made and continue to make each day to strengthen this nation. We support the promise made by Mayor de Blasio and the City Council to keep New York City a sanctuary for our families, friends, and neighbors. Scapegoating any group of people for the challenges our nation faces is unacceptable and dangerous. Separating families and refusing refugees will not make us safer. Our nation is at its best, and its strongest, when we use our diverse talents, experiences, and ideas to build a future that works for all. New York City’s settlement houses do this by welcoming and strengthening people and families of every background, nation, and religion. We are honored to represent these organizations which have been doing this work for more than a century, and together we will be here for all New Yorkers throughout the next.

Continuing our Committment to Immigrants and Refugees

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

The end of the year is a time many people go on vacation, see family, and celebrate the holidays. It’s frequently when we look back upon the year behind us and make resolutions for the year ahead.

To take a break from the buzz of New York City and enjoy some sun in the midst of a northeast winter, my wife and I recently took a trip to Key West. It was on this vacation that I was reminded of the important work waiting for me back home.

At the end of our trip our catamaran came across a migrant, bundled up in a sleeping bag, paddling a tiny inflatable mattress with a broomstick. Just three miles from the shore of the United States, our captain radioed the Coast Guard who came and picked him up. The closest land was the island nation of Cuba 90 miles away, but who knows from where he ventured, how many days he fought ocean currents, thirst, and hunger in the hopes of reaching our shores.

From what life he was escaping I don't know, but my heart broke twice as this drama unfolded before us. Once for this man, who undoubtedly will be brought to a detention center before being sent back to his home country, and a second time for the lack of humanity in my fellow travelers. For the most part they seemed indifferent to his suffering, happy to simply snap pictures without reflecting on the broader implications they were witnessing as a fellow human being with nothing but an air mattress and a broom floated near a boat carrying vacationing Americans.

I know countless tragedies like this play out daily across the world, but there is something about seeing it in play out in front of your eyes that is truly humbling. With this experience I approach 2017 with a renewed commitment to fight for all New Yorkers, and particularly our immigrant and refugee neighbors.

by Kevin Douglas, UNH Co-Director of Policy and Advocacy.
Contact Kevin at kdouglas@unhny.org

Emily Menlo Marks winners announced

Friday, December 16, 2016
This week, UNH announced the winners of the Emily Menlo Marks Scholarship for the Spring 2017 semester. This program supports settlement house staff working toward achieving their higher education goals. It's named after a former UNH Executive Director with a passion for social justice and community-building. For more information, click here.

The winners of the scholarship for Spring 2017 are:

First Name

Last Name

Settlement House

Jennivin

Joseph

CAMBA

Fiona

Guan

Chinese-American Planning Council

Binh

Luu

Chinese-American Planning Council

Kawai

Yan

Chinese-American Planning Council

Xiu Ying(Susan)

Zheng

Chinese-American Planning Council

Jamel

Burgess

Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation

Finola

Burton

Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation

Thameshwarie

Ramrattan

Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation

Denise

Taveras

Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation

Maxwell

Griffith

East Side House

Andrea

Sky Scott

Educational Alliance

Cassian

Thompson

Educational Alliance

Trokom

Moore

Goddard Riverside Community Center

Monica

Ortiz

Goddard Riverside Community Center

Diane

Wright (Shirley)

Goddard Riverside Community Center

Sonia

Lugo

Grand St. Settlement

Ambar

Rosario

Grand St. Settlement

Millicent

Murph

Hamilton Madison House

Vanessa

Rosa 

Henry Street Settlement

 Isidro Fortuna Henry Street Settlement

LaGene

Wright

Henry Street Settlement

Alyssa

Lenihan

Kingsbridge Heights Community Center

Laura

Bligh

Lenox Hill Neighborhood House

Samantha

Chau

Lenox Hill Neighborhood House

Judy

Sanchez

Lenox Hill Neighborhood House

Laiba

Shah

Lincoln Square Neighborhood Center

Albert

Felipe

Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation

Brendy

Iglesias

Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation

Rehana

Hoque

Queens Community House

Jessica

Liriano

SEBNC

Simon

Correa

Southeast Bronx Neighborhood Centers

Yajaira

Molina

St. Nick's Alliance

Juan

Acosta

Sunnyside Community Services

Victor

Dominguez

Sunnyside Community Services

Karina

Robledo

Sunnyside Community Services

Jason

Hernandez

Union Settlement

Susana

Montesinos

Union Settlement

Roy

Frias

United Community Centers

Qi

Yuan Yuan

University Settlement

Jessica

Trane

University Settlement

Omandra

Zamora

University Settlement


Congratulations to the winners!
To support this scholarship to help us develop the next generation of settlement house leaders, click here.

In addition, UNH recently hosted a reception for prior winners of the scholarship for a networking opportunity. For photos, click here!

Settlement Houses Respond to Political Climate

Monday, December 12, 2016
Settlement houses are forces of positive action. They respond to adverse social and political conditions. Since the late 19th century, immigrants and others have come to settlement houses to build better lives for themselves and their families even when facing discrimination and hate. Now, with increasing rhetorical and physical threats upon so many communities, including immigrants, Muslims, people of color, and LGBTQ people, settlement houses are working on multiple levels to provide safe environments and concrete protections for New Yorkers.

Signals of safety: New York City’s settlement houses are stating clearly that the houses are safe places that will protect peoples’ rights. Here are some examples from several UNH members.

Educational Alliance has put a sign at the entrance of its facilities letting participants know they will be treated with respect and dignity. The sign is in English, Spanish, French, Hebrew, Arabic, and Chinese.

Organization-wide, University Settlement has released a compilation of thoughts, resources, and reflections to staff, which includes a summary of concerns expressed by staff and participants. This is important: it is a sign that the organization is hearing its staff and program participants. Furthermore, University Settlement is crafting a statement, to be translated into several languages and shared with participants, emphasizing the organization’s commitment to creating safe spaces, protecting the social safety net, denouncing hate speech and other forms of intolerance, and encouraging constructive dialogue.

The Door, part of University Settlement’s family of organizations, is collecting and distributing know-your-rights materials and resources, directed toward immigrants and advocates.

Grand Street Settlement is creating a 10-point advocacy platform which includes opposition to mass deportations and calls for a reduction in the number of youth caught in the criminal justice system. This platform will be built upon and edited by staff and community members and finalized at the start of the new year.

Henry Street Settlement put together a flyer (pictured) that says “Worried about the future? Henry Street is here for you.”

Systems for safety: These signs are backed up by action.

Educational Alliance is developing a system to provide people who feel unsafe in the subway system with buddies. The organization is also hosting conversations among staff and participants about safety and the current atmosphere to give people a voice. There are preparations for workshops on civic engagement and education for members who want to learn more and connect with other neighbors, as well as provision of in-house expert advice on immigration and health care-related questions.

Grand Street Settlement’s platform is one step to achieving their broader goal of mobilizing staff and community members to engage in policy change and advocate continuously for the platform’s points.  

Henry Street Settlement has gone far beyond posting a flyer. The Program Director of Henry Street’s Neighborhood Resource Center (NRC) spoke with behavioral health staff to clarify that, in regards to entitlements, immigration status, and other areas of client concern, nothing is changing at the moment. This is an important point: the mere fact of the election has not yet changed the way these programs function. Program participants with entitlement concerns have been invited to see NRC staff. Henry Street’s School-Based Mental Health team is continuing to support teachers and children in Henry Street’s schools where it has mental health clinics. On November 11, Henry Street Settlement held a gathering at the Abrons Gallery for community reflection on the election. Henry Street’s youth program and the organization Volunteers of Legal Service, which provides pro bono legal support, held a meeting December 5 to update youth and parents about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) process. At Henry Street’s Mental Health Shelter, the program director held meetings with clients and staff who were concerned about the future. Henry Street’s Education and Employment Division has, for several months, been running staff-facilitated Healing Groups to discuss racism and the ever-present examples of racism in America.

Southeast Bronx Neighborhood Centers (SEBNC) is going to talk about post-election implications for entitlements, immigration, and affordable housing through a community forum and SEBNC Radio.

University Settlement held an information session December 6 to provide information on immigrants’ rights. Across the organization, programs are encouraged to hold meetings among staff and community members to speak to positive action and concerns, spread the message that University Settlement will continue to support its communities, and set the stage for future advocacy and activism. On December 13, from 12 to 1:30pm, at 184 Eldridge Street, in the 2nd Floor Library (with lunch provided), the organization will hold an advocacy training, as part of a larger effort to encourage members of the University Settlement community to undertake deeper civic engagement and receive accurate information about forthcoming news events. University is also spreading information about self-care, encouraging people to undertake self-care, and encouraging staff and program participants to watch for signs of depression, anxiety, loss of sobriety, trauma, and other psychological effects following from the nationwide and local feelings of fear and intimidation.  

The Door has been offering drop-in consultations for young immigrants who are distressed and need advice and reassurance. It has also been sending attorneys to schools and community partners to speak to young people, educators, and youth development staff about the changing landscape. The Door encourages people who work with immigrant youth (ages 12-24) to contact Marlene Berrora (mberroa@door.org) at the Door’s Legal Services Center to request a training on legal resources for that community. The Legal Services Center is also offering webinars on working with immigrant youth in the post-election climate, and will offer a webinar for those who request it.

More to come. Settlement houses are mobilizing as they always have: providing space for community members to share their concerns and providing multi-faceted, concrete solutions to meet community needs.  We are proud to be the member organization of all our 37 NYC settlement houses. To find one near you, visit http://www.unhny.org/our_members/index.html

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A Post-Election Message

Thursday, November 10, 2016
Over the past year, thousands of people have engaged and enraged this election season and knocked on doors, made phone calls, and attended rallies. Traditional and social media stoked a frenzied firestorm of stories about the candidates, their personal lives, and their habits. And millions of dollars paid for consultants and advertising to craft and direct a massive messaging campaign to people who wanted to hear that their candidates would protect their interests.

Yesterday we learned that the popular vote again diverged from the electoral college tally and exhausted Americans both worry and celebrate what will happen next.

We continue to have a responsibility to understand the pain and anger of our neighbors throughout the country who believe that the status quo has left them behind as well as those who believe our country is indeed on the right path. Regardless of sides, the team we are on believes in the extraordinary and life-changing work of settlement houses which have responded to the changing needs of New York City’s communities for more than a hundred years. How lucky are we that we have signed on to be part of the work that believes in strengthening our communities, supporting our neighbors and building a human infrastructure that leads to healthier lives.

Today is the day after yesterday and we have a great deal of work to do. Thank you for your continued commitment to UNH and to the work we do together.

Warmly,
Susan Stamler
UNH Executive Director

UNH Visits Berlin

Wednesday, November 09, 2016
1945. London, Warsaw, Nagasaki and other cities across the globe have been reduced to rubble. The haze of intercontinental warfare has begun to rise, and a weary world sets about remaking itself. Soon though, the true toll of the war becomes clear. It is not defined just by the crumbled roads, bombed out buildings, collapsed bridges, and twisted railways, but in the full scope of the horror of the Holocaust. The Nazi campaign in Europe has resulted in the murder of an estimated six million Jew and several million additional victims including prisoners of war, and other ethnic, political, religious, and LGBTQ populations. Millions more around the world have been displaced as result of the conflict, and in the coming years, the inhospitality and violence toward refugees necessitates an international response. From the establishment of the International Refugee Organization in 1946, to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, to the Geneva Convention on Refugees in 1951, the international community tries to establish a basic set of guidelines defining the status and rights of refugees.

Looking back on this devastating chapter in world history, it is hard to fathom that in 2016 there are more refugees and internally displaced persons around the world than there were during this bleak period following World War II. And yet this is precisely the case. With 65 million refugees world-wide today, the International Federation of Settlement and Neighborhood Centers hosted their annual conference with the theme of exploring the role settlement houses can play in addressing this refugee crisis. Just over a month ago I had the privilege of representing UNH at this conference in Berlin, titled “On the Move —At Home in the World.”

It is not surprising to me that IFS believes there is a role for settlement houses in addressing an international crisis of such magnitude. Settlement houses, after all, have been on the front lines of providing essential human services in their neighborhoods for well over 100 years. For just as long, they have been advocates for social justice, seeking to change the conditions that lead to the poverty and exclusion of immigrant, ethnic and other communities.

Over the course of four days, conference attendees learned about the causes and impacts of migration in Europe and Africa, as well as models for immigrant inclusion and engagement. As a participant in a three-day settlement house worker exchange immediately preceding the conference, I also had the opportunity to interact directly with dedicated professionals from Israel, Canada, Russia and Germany. From presentations by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, a diplomat from the German Foreign Office, and a university professor with an expertise on the European Union, to visits to settlement houses throughout Berlin and a refugee center housing more than 1,500 people, this week-long immersion in refugee resettlement left me with three distinct observations:

1) settlement houses are critical players in the service-delivery ecosystem,
2) settlements houses can and should be vehicles for advocacy, and
3) there is a need for all people to speak out against intolerance, oppression and violence.

Settlement houses are critical players in the service-delivery ecosystem

While visiting Templehof — the decommissioned military airport doubling as a popular public park on the outside, and a makeshift refugee center on the inside — we learned that settlement houses, despite not holding the contract to house the refugees, are the key social service providers. Through creative use of a “volunteer bus,” the settlement houses have set up a mechanism for local community members and refugees to share their skills and talents with each other for the collective good. The settlement house staff are also providing case management, clothing, food, and meeting other key needs, including German language instruction and job search assistance.



Outside of the refugee centers, settlement houses are also helping resettle refugees. Over the course of 2015 alone, Germany accepted over 1 million refugees, with a further 250,000+ in 2016. These individuals and families require support to successfully integrate into their new communities, and settlement houses are key sources of that support. In addition to availing themselves of the same services native Berliners do — youth programs, food programs, senior programs, etc.— refugees are also able to study Germany and look for work with the assistance of settlement house staff. The whole-family approach of settlement houses makes them particularly well-suited to meeting the needs of refugees. In a foreign country with limited to no proficiency in German and little resources for travel, a settlement house that can provide multiple services makes life easier for newcomers.

Settlement houses can and should be vehicles for advocacy

During the three-day settlement house worker exchange, each participant had the opportunity to deliver a presentation about youth services to their peers. As a policy advocate, I chose to focus mine on how UNH and our member settlement houses proactively engage youth in advocacy efforts; specifically, the Campaign for Summer Jobs (CSJ).  From the process of recruiting and training youth to participate in our annual Youth Action Day in the state capitol, to helping prepare them to testify at hearings and lead legislative meetings, the exchange participants were impressed by the creative and empowering way settlement houses in New York City are engaging youth. The benefits of giving youth a platform to speak out were immediately obvious to the exchange participants, and many left feeling energized to bring the ideas back to their home cities.

In addition to the  personal development benefits experienced by youth engaged in advocacy (self-efficacy, leadership skills, relationship building, etc.), the importance of advocacy was also reinforced by a lecture delivered by Professor Dr. Nivedita Prasad,  titled “Social Work as a Human Rights Profession.” Dr. Prasad spoke at length about the challenges social workers face when they operate essentially as arms of the state. For example, when the government funds programs for refugees, they get to dictate the terms and conditions of those services, and can also inform the nature of interactions and relationships between social workers and refugees, which can sometimes be disempowering to the newcomer. She challenged social workers to push back against these practices and be advocates for the rights and dignity of their constituents. Her remarks were a timely reminder to both social workers and others within the settlement house movement to be advocates for justice.

The need for all people to speak out against intolerance, oppression and violence

This last take-away from the conference for me was perhaps the most important. And that is that intolerance, oppression, and violence affect us all, and we must be relentless in our struggle against them. Many of the people I met in Germany spoke about a national consciousness that is sensitive to the needs of persecuted and displaced peoples as a result of Germany’s own national history. This is why they work to reduce conflict and have taken in so many refugees from countries like Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Still, there are groups of people within the country who push back against the acceptance of refugees, and in some cases spread hateful rhetoric or engage in violence against them. Vigilance against this intolerance is a constant for settlement house workers in Berlin and beyond.



Given the escalating rhetoric and acts of violence we have seen against ethnic, religious and other groups in our own country over the last year, is incumbent upon all of us to use our voices to push back, and articulate alternative visions for our communities that are inclusive of all people. This work must happen at the same time as we continue to proactively help these communities access the services and supports they need to succeed.

Really, I suppose, the unifying lesson of these three observations — that settlement houses are critical players in the service-delivery ecosystem, that settlements houses can and should be vehicles for advocacy, and that there is a need for all people to speak out against intolerance, oppression and violence — is that settlement houses today are as relevant as when they were first founded at the turn of the last century. They are at once bedrock institutions in their communities that help individuals and families of all sizes and types thrive, while also vehicles for powerful advocacy with and on behalf of those same communities. As conflict and persecution around the world continues to drive people from their homes, the United States and New York City in particular will continue to be a destination and place of refuge. We must take that reality and responsibility seriously.

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WNET Announces Treasures of New York: Settlement Houses

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Treasures of New York: Settlement Houses Explores The 130-Year History of a Dynamic Social Service Movement and its Ongoing Role in NYC’s Social Fabric

Premieres Thursday, November 17 at 8pm on WLIW21 Premieres Sunday, November 20 at 7pm on THIRTEEN

NEW YORK [November 7, 2016] – In the late 19th century, settlement houses sprang up in New York City as havens for new immigrants and the existing population of Manhattan's impoverished lower east side. Over 130 years later, more than three dozen organizations, following the settlement house model, offer a wide array of services and activities to New York City's ever-changing population in communities throughout the five boroughs. Nestled in our neighborhoods, these safe zones for children and adults of all ages provide opportunities for teaching, learning and connecting with our neighbors, which play an integral role in New York City’s social fabric. A new film, Treasures of New York: Settlement Houses, explores the unique history of this dynamic social service movement, which boasts distinguished alumni such as Abraham Beame, Jacob Javits, James Cagney, and Burt Lancaster. The one-hour documentary is a part of an exciting and informative fall season line-up of the series, which celebrates our region’s most meaningful locations and relevant cultural institutions.

Treasures of New York: Settlement Houses premieres on Thursday, November 17 at 8pm on WLIW21 and Sunday, November 20 at 7pm on THIRTEEN. Following the broadcast, the film will also be available for online viewing at wliw.org/treasures.

Social reformer Stanton Coit established the first settlement house in the latter part of the 19th century in reaction to New York City’s flood of new immigrants into an already overcrowded city. The settlement house movement created havens where residents of the City’s impoverished neighborhoods could seek assistance, education or a simple respite. Treasures of New York: Settlement Houses explores the movement’s evolution and the social ramifications of settlement houses in New York’s five-borough community. Through both archival and modern day interviews and images, viewers will learn how institutions that began as a resource to help immigrants and poverty-stricken city dwellers now provide services and activities designed to identify and reinforce the strengths of individuals, families, and communities.

Today, 37 organizations under the umbrella of United Neighborhood Houses continue to garner avid support, as their presence and leadership impact the region. “Settlement houses are vital parts of their communities and we are proud to amplify the voices of these organizations by providing a shared space to discuss innovative program models and advocate for funding and policy to support the lifetime of services they provide,” said Susan Stamler, Executive Director of UNH.

The film examines how these community centers currently provide services and programs to over half a million New Yorkers. Today’s settlement outreach may include job training and employment programs; early childhood education; afterschool youth programs; arts education and performances, English as a second language and literacy education; citizenship and legal counseling; mental health and home care; and senior centers. Settlement Houses also offer opportunities for community service—holding forums and leading advocacy efforts on local concerns, registering voters, and providing information about citywide issues.

Among the settlements spotlighted is Henry Street Settlement on the Lower East Side. Viewers will learn more about Henry Street Settlement’s historical and current impact from Executive Director David Garza. In Staten Island, the film examines the scope of Project Hospitality’s work as the largest provider of direct services and advocacy for immigrants and impoverished communities in the borough, highlighting its large web of passionate community volunteers and funders. At the youth service provider, SCAN New York (East Harlem/South Bronx), Treasures of New York introduces viewers to 11-year old after-school program participant and beat composer/performer, “AJ,” and SCAN alum – now SCAN board member – Jamel Oeser-Sweat, whose youth was deeply affected by foster care, homelessness and emergency shelters before the agency’s programs profoundly helped him.

For more information about the series and this program, visit the Treasures of New York website at www.wliw.org/treasures

UNH SYEPer Relects on her Summer Job part 2

Friday, August 12, 2016


by Florence Yu, UNH SYEP participant

Hello, my name is Florence Yu and I am 17 years old. I will be a rising senior this upcoming school year. I had heard about SYEP from friends, however, this is my first year participating. I chose to work here at United Neighborhood Houses as my first choice worksite, and it is a decision I will never regret. It was also UNH’s first time having SYEP participants in their office so it was an exciting time for every one of us. The past six weeks working at UNH for SYEP has changed how I perceived everyday life in the City. I was unaware of the numerous things that took place right in front of my eyes, but because of UNH, I was able to see what happens behind and throughout the process of policy and advocacy.

Growing up, I have always been unclear on what I want to do in the future. People often pressure me to choose a career path as soon as possible, however, as a teenager it is quite hard to choose what I want to do for the rest of my life in such a short amount of time. There are many instances when I felt overwhelmed in choosing what future occupation I should commit to. But there are times in my life when I feel there are factors that are slowly guiding me to the profession I will soon acquire. For instance, United Neighborhood Houses has played a big role in helping me understand what I want to do with my life when I am older. The meetings I attended reshaped my perception of how the city works. It isn’t just the Mayor, Governor, Congress, or President making changes in the neighborhoods we live in every day. There are so many people working behind the scenes every day to make these changes happen. It was amazing learning about the procedures used to create the city that we live in now. Working at UNH really opened my eyes to the city that I live in.

When I first came to work at UNH, I had only a slight interest in policy and advocacy. This was because I was unaware of what really went on to help make changes in the communities of New York City. During my time working here, I began to understand the meaning of policy and advocacy and the importance of it. From meeting two Chiefs of Staff of two City Council members, attending the Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation settlement house, visiting City Hall, to researching and collecting data for youth bureaus, Cornerstones, and summer camps, I became inspired to take part in policy and advocacy as much as I can outside of UNH. I want to learn more and try to incorporate political science into my future job. I never knew how interesting policy and advocacy was until UNH and I did not know what to pursue in college until now.

My experience at United Neighborhood Houses was amazing. I was immensely nervous to begin work on my first day, but I quickly saw that the environment is very warm and welcoming. There is a certain aspect of working at UNH that caught my eye. It was the way everyone put in so much effort in trying to establish a great start for a more effective place to live. The staff at UNH has become my family in the past six weeks. They were very patient with me and answered any questions that I had for them. They were very understanding and I grew comfortable with them in such a short amount of time. The staff members at UNH are such driven workers and it further motivated me to work harder than I did before. Their determination to advocate for a better, well-funded city for everyone is breathtaking.

I wanted to take part in SYEP this year to gain experience in the work force for future reference. As a teenager, it is difficult to find a job without having experience. Being a participant in SYEP has given me an opportunity to learn things about the real world I would not have learned if I was not a part of the program. I was able to learn how to make proper business calls, collect data, and conduct research throughout my time at UNH. I was also able to participate in meetings for advocacy for people of all ages. Because of this, I was able to learn about the problems that institutions in the city face and the steps we can take to resolve them. I am lucky to be able to learn about what happens during this process.

To be able to be a part of such an amazing team is truly a blessing that I will never take for granted. I have learned so much from my time at United Neighborhood Houses. I took away a lot of knowledge and skills just from working here. I am grateful for everyone who has taught me the ropes of policy and advocacy. I took nothing but positive life lessons from United Neighborhood Houses. I have gained a lot of experience over the summer and have overcome many fears that I had before entering this job. If I were to do SYEP again, I would definitely choose to come back to United Neighborhood Houses.

 

 

           

UNH's SYEPer Reflects on her Summer Job

Thursday, August 11, 2016

by Samragyee De


My name is Samragyee De, a rising senior at Hunter College High School. I’ve probably been asked what I want to study in college or what I want to do with my life over a hundred times now, and if you asked me a few months ago, I would have answered you with a sorry-to-disappoint smile and say, “I have no idea.” Now, after six weeks working as part of the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) at United Neighborhood Houses, I can say I'm interested in pursuing a career in public policy or political science.

As with all SYEP participants, it was a stroke of luck that I was chosen at all for the program, but it was chance that I even found this program at all.


I found out about SYEP the night before applications were due from my mom. Her colleague’s son entered some sort of a lottery called Summer Youth Employment Program and ended up getting a paid job at Marshall's that gave him work experience in his area of interest -- business.  In a rush of confusion and frenzy I stayed up until 2am that night filling out my forms for SYEP. About a month or so later, I received an email saying I had been chosen in the SYEP lottery, and had been placed into my first choice placement, United Neighborhood Houses. At this point, I had done my homework and found out more about this program. A trademark of SYEP is that regardless of academic or financial ability, race, gender, or sexuality, you can enter the lottery as long as you’re a New York City resident between the ages of 14-24.


As it turns out, one of my closest friends had taken part in SYEP for the past two years and highly recommended it. “Hopefully you’re getting a really cool job AND you’re getting paid so even if you don’t get a really cool job, you’re getting paid!!!” she had exclaimed to me. She, in fact, has aspirations of being a lawyer and SYEP has given her an opportunity to work in the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office this summer.   


Seven weeks later, here I am at United Neighborhood Houses writing this blog post. SYEP has given me real life work experience, a sense of fiscal responsibility, and an opportunity to be professional and to network. I learned how to make my own savings account, how to withdraw money and how to allocate and save my salary. And that was only from the initial six-hour orientation.


I found this summer to be stimulating because I was matched to an internship in what now is my career interest. My wonderful supervisor Andy Bowen kept us engaged in work that was relevant and essential to what she was working on, while providing us with background and knowledge on how the  policy and advocacy world functions. I was allowed to sit in on meetings with executive directors and representatives of settlement houses, early child care providers, NORCs (Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities), and other organizations, and later provide my thoughts and opinions about the issues at hand. I collected data by directly contacting organization leaders and directors and asking them specific questions about budget, enrollment for the year, and demographic breakdown.


Through this, I have found out so much more about my lifelong home of New York City and the countless people and organizations and seemingly endless list of abbreviations that exist to better the lives of everyone. This culminated in a trip to City Hall and 250 Broadway that Andy organized so my SYEP co-worker Florence and I could get more of an idea of what policy and advocacy entails. We were privileged to attend meetings with Dev Awasthi,
Deputy Chief of Staff for Councilmember Barry Grodenchik, the council member that represents the district and neighborhood I’m from, as well as Daniel Coates, Chief of Staff for Councilmember Julissa Ferreras-Copeland.


Both meetings further affirmed my interest in the field of politics, public service and policy with both representatives not only encouraging me to act on my interests, but giving me concrete ways to get involved, even though I’m not even old enough to vote yet. Both meetings were particularly significant for me because the chief of staff for Councilman Grodenchik gave me insight into the issues and consequent improvements in the district and how I can get involved right at home. Councilmember Julissa Ferreras-Copeland is truly an inspiration for me, being one of the most powerful people in the Council, despite the hindrances in her path to simply forging a career in politics, for simply being a woman of color, like myself.


I could probably go on and on about every single moment that inspired me during my short time at UNH, but this is a blog post, and I need to keep this to the length of a one-pager (some self explanatory policy lingo I picked up here.) SYEP was pivotal for me to realize my current interests and further them. I am so grateful to the city of New York and specifically, my supervisor Andy whose literal job is to advocate for increased funding for this program, for supporting this to give so many opportunities to youth all over the city in a way that is not only non-discriminatory in design, but also meant to actively engage and inspire them.