Canceled Summer Youth Employment Program workers find innovative ways to connect with youths

BRENIKA BANKS | 6/25/2020, midnight | Updated on 6/25/2020, 1:50 p.m.
Health and safety concerns of COVID-19 pressured Mayor de Blasio to cancel 2020 Summer Youth Employment Programs in New York ...
Youth/young people Photo by Joshua Mcknight from Pexels

Health and safety concerns of COVID-19 pressured Mayor de Blasio to cancel 2020 Summer Youth Employment Programs in New York City. The decision impacted 175,000 young people and approximately 14,000 youth service employees who depend on these in-person summer programs.

Youth service workers are displeased with the mayor’s decision to eliminate this year’s programs. A total of 1,946 youth service workers signed a letter addressed to the mayor on June 14; the letter details how the canceled programs negatively contribute to Black and Latinx communities that suffer the most from COVID-19 and emphasized the important role community-based organizations have on preparing the next generation of leaders. “Your decision to eliminate summer program funding for the summer of 2020 has had disastrous consequences for our communities and for our careers,” the young workers expressed in their letter.

The youth workers called out the mayor for having conflicting and vague statements, which they claim provoked plenty of anxiety and turbulence. The desolated effects of COVID-19 in the communities of these youth makes it crucial for them to receive needed support. About 105 youth service workers who signed the open letter to the mayor were from the CAMBA. This non-profit organization provides integrated services and programs in education and economic development, as well as youth development. CAMBA assists 8,000 youth each year with many supportive services including their Collegiate Express program. The program was designed to help young people navigate their path to college by providing students and parents with necessary tools to successfully enter college.

Sofi Rousseau, 17, is a senior at Midwood high school in Brooklyn. She is a part of CAMBA’s Collegiate Express program located in Flatbush, Brooklyn. Rousseau vocalized conforming to online learning and missing her friends. “Although Collegiate Express has provided us with wonderful support,” she expressed, “it’s very different from when we’re able to meet together, eat together and be in the same room. We still have close support, but it’s not the same.” According to the Collegiate Express website, 33% of young adults are living in poverty, and 60% of families are severely rent-burdened. Families in need reported depending on Summer Youth Employment Programs’ income during regular summers. The impact of the COVID pandemic has been tough for low-income communities where many youths participate in programs like CAMBA. It is vital for these programs to maintain operating for youths, like Rousseau, who rely on the earnings to help their unemployed family members during this time. “It’s so important,” Rousseau said. “I look forward to getting extra pay from a summer job to help out my parents.”

As New York City remains under social distancing guidelines for the entire summer, community-based organizations are developing more remote learning options to connect with their youths. The summer recovery programming is arranging to have different options in place for youth. These options intend to ensure constructive activities that support their well-being and recovery from a disruptive spring semester. Activities such as dance and movement would ideally take place in larger spaces with physical demarcations enforced. “One settlement house actually uses hula hoops so that kids don’t come within six or even ten feet of each other,” said Gregory Brender, Director of Children & Youth Services at United Neighborhood Houses.United Neighborhood Houses. This organization provides advocacy and partners for issues including youth development. “Summer youth employment programs and other youth programs really specialize in fostering social, emotional growth and it’s especially important that this happens this summer.”

Community-based organizations have adapted innovative socially distant in-person programs aimed to implement safe service options during this health crisis. “Having them connected with youth workers who have connections in their community, connections with individual youth and their own peers throughout the summer will be really important for their growth and their education,” Brender stated. These newly creative ways are expected to benefit the youth’s well-being and assure positive experiences for them throughout the summer. “Our focus has been on ensuring that programs are available. Many of these workers are already doing remote programming over Zoom and doing telephone check-ins,” Brender added.

Technology is the safest way for the youth to stay united for educational and emotional support. “We stay involved through Zoom meetings and phone calls and the Collegiate Express program has us playing games, like charades,” Rousseau said. “We’ve also visited campuses through virtual tours and I’m especially interested in the HBCUs like Howard and Morgan State.”

An earlier version of this article misidentified Gregory Brender as the co-director of Children & Youth Services at United Neighborhood Houses. He is the director.