OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign Up / Login or Learn more

Teen Life Internship: Empowering At-risk Youth through Paid Jobs

Breaking the cycle of generational poverty through youth leadership development.

Photo of Gabriel Stiritz

Written by

Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

The Teen Life Internship is a program. Instead of viewing high school students as a troubled population with problems that we need to solve, we see them as the most underutilized talent pool in the country. Instead of trying to solve their problems and the problems in their communities, we ask them to come alongside us as change agents and leaders. They know better than we ever could the challenges that youth in inner city poverty face: they deal with it every day. Instead, we aim to equip them with the tools and skills they need in order to break free from the vicious cycles that threaten to trap them. Practically this means giving them real responsibility in paid jobs where they are able to be role models and mentors to younger (1st-8th grade) children who live in the same community. The time to do this is after school, when parents need childcare and are often desperate to find a suitable and affordable place for their children to go before the parents finish work for the day.

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

The beneficiaries are high school students (14-18 years old) who are in disadvantaged situations. They lack supports their home lives and at school, and often live lives of quiet desperation. Imagine a spectrum of need from 0 (very low need) to 100 (highest need youth). From 0 to 20 on the need spectrum are the youth who are dealing with the most serious issues: broken families, incarceration, delinquency, etc. There are many programs that work with these youth, and the ratio of effort input to long-term change is low. From 80-100 are the youth with the least need: they have strong families, school supports, and are going to do well. Our goal is to serve the 20-80: the youth who are almost invisible. They face large challenges, brokenness, but tragically, are most likely to be overlooked because they are not the most needy. The amazing thing we’ve found is that these are the young people most ready for change when they are given opportunity.

How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)

Youth programs are not unique. From Boys and Girls Clubs to little leagues to youth camps, there are thousands of programs that serve young people. What sets the Teen Life Internship apart is the long-term, daily, structured investment that is made in young people. It’s a data-driven approach to relationships over the course of 4-10 years that makes a deep impact in the lives of the youth that are in the program. Every hour of programming is aimed at instilling values and skills in the Teen Life Interns through paid jobs, mentoring sessions by professional staff, networking opportunities, life skills training, offsite retreats, and more. Each of these interactions is intentional is designed to develop youth and to set them on a trajectory of success for the rest of their lives.

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Early Adoption: I have completed a pilot and analyzed the impact of that pilot on the intended users of the idea. I have begun to expand the pilot for early adoption.

Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)

New City Kids is a youth leadership development organization dedicated to breaking the cycle of generational poverty. www.newcitykids.org

Expertise in sector

  • 7+ years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.

Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).

Prosperity is affect by drastic inequities in the context of a single city. Within the bounds of Jersey City, for example, we have "Wall Street West," the back offices of the largest financial corporations. We also have the largest population of Egyptian coptic Christians outside of Cairo, who have immigrated to escape religious persecution. In the same neighborhoods there are families who are trapped in generational poverty and do not have the means to escape. Peace in our Jersey City, Paterson, and Grand Rapids neighborhoods is affected by those who have been so entangled in poverty that drug trafficking, drug abuse, and violence have become the norm and spill into the lives of those who are trying to escape.

Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)

New City Kids works with families, individuals, and institutions in our communities to learn and develop programs. The after school program, launched in Jersey City in 2005, was a direct result of feedback we received while do house visits to families we were already serving. We have begun literacy classes and launched a literacy program for Egyptian immigrants when one of our after school center sites began to fill with families escaping persecution in Egypt but had no supports in America when they arrived.

Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)

The community has a large number of youth who are looking for part time jobs. They are in high school and are motivated to earn money and would like to be a social environment. They have a deep understanding of their community and can relate to younger and older people in their city. They are also keenly aware of the fact that they need support to grow, and want to be seen as leaders.

Geographic Focus

New Jersey and Michigan, USA

How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)

This award would allow New City Kids to roll out the program into a new neighborhood, which takes approximately 24 months from beginning stages to established program.

Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)

  • No

22 comments

Join the conversation:

Comment
Photo of Alexandra null
Team

Hi Gabriel,
Would love to learn more about your challenges and solutions in recruiting teen and retaining their interest. We are looking to implement a similar project in NYC.
Best
Alexandra

Photo of Gabriel Stiritz
Team

Absolutely! This is one of the areas that is a core strength of New City Kids. Can you send a link to your idea page?

Photo of Alexandra null
Team

NYCxSTEM
https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/bridgebuilder2/ideas/nycxstem

Photo of Christina Schwanke
Team

Gabriel Stiritz This looks like a great program! New City Kids is actually the employer of the youth not a pipeline for internships? Does this program have a sustainable funding stream or is it completely reliant on donor/grant funding? What life skills training do you offer?

Photo of Gabriel Stiritz
Team

Christina Schwanke We do employ the youth directly. They are W2 employees with the organization. I would argue that it's not a dichotomy between sustainability and donor funding. We've been in the field for over 20 years and we've been funded by individual donors, private foundations, and churches almost exclusively. That said, I do think there are potential possible funding sources that we haven't tapped into that could be found in doing more trades-based readiness instead of exclusively college readiness, and it's something we're exploring. Regarding the life skills, there's money management, public speaking, cooking, resume writing, college readiness, SAT class, and more. We run 6-session classes throughout the year and the Teen Life Interns are required to participate in a least three different classes as part of their job.

Photo of Christina Schwanke
Team

Gabriel Stiritz I apologize that question was poorly worded. I agree that your sources of funding are sustainable. Thank you for the clarification. I believe for some exposure to the trades is life changing. I worked for an Education Foundation for a year and there were several students I encountered that would have been better served in a trade school. Our program has some similar ideas and I would appreciate if you would take a look and let me know if we could connect as our program grows and expands. I will tag you.
Christina
P.S. I love the money management piece.

Photo of Gabriel Stiritz
Team

Christina Schwanke No worries. I just feel passionate about the language that is used regarding funding streams—I believe it's important to see a donor-funded model as sustainable, I think you agree with as well. I read through your project idea and I really love it. In some ways it's what New City Kids could look like if taken to rural areas and deployed in an older demographic, particularly in that you are using a paid job as an incentive for holistic development for the people you are serving. As someone who grew up in a rural area: west-central Arkansas, these issues are close to my heart and I'm glad to see that you're working to address them.

Photo of Christina Schwanke
Team

Gabriel Stiritz  Thank you for your response! We are finding these issues to be similar across the US but it is helpful to have feedback from different regions. I love your project and would love to implement something similar for rural youth as our program expands.

Photo of Gabriel Stiritz
Team

Wonderful. Let's keep in touch. Are you ever in the NYC area?

Photo of Christina Schwanke
Team

Gabriel Stiritz 

Thank you for the Linkedin add. We are in Nevada and California. Thank goodness for the internet! I look forward to future conversation. Let me know if you ever have questions about electrical trades. Power lineman apprenticeships actually contributed to inspiring our idea!

Christina

Photo of Gabriel Stiritz
Team

Amen to that. That's fascinating. I was talking to someone who does automotive interior upholstering - just starting learn about the breadth and depth of the trades.

Photo of Nora Dooley
Team

Hi Gabriel! I love the youth-driven approach. We share the philosophy that there needs to be a shift in how adults/educators view the relationship between teacher/student coach/player parent/child etc. - we assume we/adults have the answers! I would love to explore possibilities to collaborate. Our idea (to be posted tomorrow) is for Washington DC but we work around the US and the world. It feels like there could be an intersection with your intense relationship-based approach and our self-directed learning methodology that we implement through play and partnerships. Curious if you would agree!

Photo of Gabriel Stiritz
Team

Nora, please send me the link to your idea once it's posted. I'd like to take a look at your program.

Photo of Nora Dooley
Team

Thanks Gabriel! Here it is: https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/bridgebuilder2/ideas/education-outside-the-classroom-innovating-for-peace-and-prosperity-with-educators-organizers-and-development-professionals-in-dc

Photo of Gabriel Stiritz
Team

Nora Dooley Thanks. You have an impressive reach. 54 countries already impacted is really quite amazing. Where is CAC HQ?

Photo of Nora Dooley
Team

Yeah! Thank you! Our partnership model allows for efficient growth. We are registered in the US and UK but don't have traditional offices anywhere. Which is an intentional choice as all of our programs are run by community-based organizations who are embedded in their local spaces - we then co-design pathways to use new/adapted tools to enhance their work and ability to change what they want to change about society! We work with some incredible people. In the US we have partners in LA, NYC, Massachusetts, Minnesota, DC and Texas. Very keen to explore possibilities with more groups as many of our staff come from/live in the States.

Photo of Gabriel Stiritz
Team

Is your team 100% distributed? And how do you implement in new areas? Do always look to hire staff in an area where you're expanding, or are you able to train and implement remotely?

Photo of Nora Dooley
Team

Great questions! Operating 100% through partnerships means everything on the ground is run by local organizations - sometimes that means NGOs or non-profits working to address a specific social issue or serve a specific population, other times thats schools, sports clubs/teams, community centers or larger associations/corporations. All of our community-based partners approach CAC to launch a partnership as a key aspect of our model is not imposing our ideas - we always aim to engage in mutual and committed relationships. Sometimes we reach out to groups where we think there might be mutual interest/benefit! At the end of the day it's of course up to the local community/leaders to implement, adapt and innovate using the tools we offer.

After a group approaches us we make a decision based on a thorough needs analysis and then we co-design a partnership pathway. Our local partners select which resources they want to prioritize and we go from there. One of these resources is what we call an 'Education Outside the Classroom' training where we work directly with key educators/leaders/coaches that deliver programs for the partner on a regular basis. It's a very active/practical training where the main priority is to create spaces where self-directed learning is possible through play and physical activity. Lots of asking questions and posing problems! And then throughout the year we support all the leaders and partners with various remote learning resources. It is for sure one of the most difficult stories to capture in words - with every partner, in every community it looks different!

I hope this makes sense. Let me know if you want to set up a call and discuss further!!

Photo of Scott Goyette
Team

Hello Gabriel,

You clearly get it. If we can get more adults to realize the reality that youth aren't entitled and useless, we would be in a much better place. Our youth are, in fact, under utilized and simply more cautious of working their lives away without a purpose. Let's continue to empower them, teach them self-discipline, help them find a purpose, and help them grow. Soon enough, they will be leading the way and I feel good about that.

Keep being awesome.

With Love and Gratitude,

Scott

Photo of Gabriel Stiritz
Team

Thanks for the kind words. I am constantly impressed by the level of vision and passion that teens in some of the most difficult circumstance have when they're here at New City Kids. We are so fortunate to get to see their unlocked potential here every day!

Photo of Brannon Veal
Team

"Instead of trying to solve their problems and the problems in their communities, we ask them to come alongside us as change agents and leaders." Love this philosophy and the focus on empowering and equipping children from inner-city communities. Great work!

Photo of Gabriel Stiritz
Team

Brannon, thanks for the kind words.