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Example of an Effective City and Community Organization Partnership for Youth Employment in NYC

Summer employment program that places youth in paid entry-level positions at community-organizations provides unexpected benefits for all stakeholders.

Photo of Megan Morrison
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In summer 2009 I worked with a small arts education non-profit in NYC. My role included managing a diverse group of 14-24 year olds who had been placed with us via NYC’s Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP).  This lottery-based employment program provides entry-level minimum wage jobs with community-based organizations throughout NYC. The wages are paid by the city, not the community-based organization, and in exchange, the SYEP Employers commit to providing on-the-job training, mentorship, and meaningful work assignments for youth employees. The Department of Youth and Community Development, which administers the SYEP program, provides additional workshops in job readiness, career exploration, and financial literacy for the youth participants.

From my perspective as a youth employee manager at an SYEP employer, this program was a triple win:

Youth employees gain professional experience and a salary while strengthening their ties to their community and making new professional contacts.

SYEP Employers, many who are under-staffed and under-resourced, gain much needed support and assistance in the office. For the arts education organization I worked with, not only did we gain assistance on day-to-day administrative projects, but we also gained a much needed youth perspective on the arts programs we offer. The SYEP youth employees helped co-create art curricula with our instructors to be used during the school year, thereby strengthening our programs and empowering our youth employees to participate as a creator and not just a consumer of education.

NYC City Government benefits by providing skills and training to the next generation workforce and by supporting the community-based organizations that make NYC vibrant and provide much-needed services to residents.

I think SYEP is an effective model and that it’s worth exploring how it could be expanded and transferred to other locales.

 A few open questions include: How do we make over-stretched local governments understand that the long term benefits of youth employment programs are worth the short-term costs?

How do we engage and reach more youth with these types of programs and opportunities?

How can community-based organizations continue to see youth as assets and thought-partners in their programming, rather than just recipients of community programs?


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Photo of Stephan Dietrich

Hello Megan,
the most important aspects of your idea are:
- just for a period of time
- using a subject with no greater educational background
- connecting talent with organizations
- are there any further criterias for participants?
- is this model able to transfer to larger scales?
Thanks in advance,

Photo of Megan Morrison

Thanks Stephan. It's a lottery based application process for NYC students. The only requirement is that they be between 14-24 years old. I think the model is scaleable, but it does require multi-stakeholder commitment which can be difficult to coordinate. For instance, the non-profits have to commit to providing mentorship and training (which can be difficult for small, under-resourced, over-stretched organizations).

Photo of Stephan Dietrich

But it must be art students? Who are the clients for whom you are working? The main purpose would be to build up a more enduring relationship, especially for the young people and the art they are representing. Another important point would be for me, that I could change - from your organization to an employee - but not just local, even global, without greater insecurities with my income.

Photo of Megan Morrison

It can be any NYC student, not just art students. I was just providing one example of a community organization that benefited from the student employees perspective and skills. Other types of community-based organizations participate as well.

As for an enduring relationship, it's a 6-week summer job but some of the youth employees have remain engaged with the organization in one way or another. And it's good, paid experience for their resumes.

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