YM&YWHA of Washington Heights & Inwood

Preparing Young Teens to be Career-Ready

The Y completed another successful year of the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) supporting 771 teens and young adults by placing them in job sites where they were not only able to earn some extra money during the summer but develop skills that will prepare them for their future careers. This year the Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD), the City’s agency that funds SYEP, decided to take a new direction with Younger Youth in the program, where 14 and 15 year-old teens received a more hands-on, educational experience before they get placed at a job site. This fits well with the Y’s own philosophy of how we run our own SYEP, as we understand the unlimited potential a meaningful SYEP experience can provide for the youth we serve when they are given opportunities to learn and grow.

Participants in our Younger Youth program were placed in four tracks, depending on their career interests: Health Careers, STEAM (Science, Technology, Arts, Engineering, and Mathematics), Food Business, and Theater and Performing Arts. To accomplish this we partnered with a group of innovative organizations that provided the curriculum. In the Food Business, we partnered with Insurgo Project, a local organization that works with local farms and retail food establishments to make healthy food affordable and accessible to the community. Our teens in the STEAM track worked with STEM Kids NYC, an organization that has worked with the Y in some of our other programs and was founded by a computer programmer who founded STEM Kids NYC to make STEAM education more accessible to children who usually do not have these opportunities. Participants in the Theater and Performing Arts group worked with People’s Theater Project, an organization also rooted in Northern Manhattan that focuses on providing theater productions for and by immigrants and other overlooked communities. For the Health Careers track, the obvious choice was to partner with New York Presbyterian Hospital (NYPH), whom we also partner with through their Uptown Youth Hub.

During these six weeks participants had the opportunity to shadow professionals, develop projects that were showcased in the final week of their internship, explored different careers, and learned how to put together a resume. Career professionals such as an attorney for a non-profit agency and an administrative law judge spoke to our youth about their own career paths to give them additional guidance and perspective, and our own Marketing Director, who has a background as both a community organizer and high school teacher, shared how both of these former careers prepared her for her current role.

Some of the projects the participants worked on helped them develop skills that will help them find employment both in the immediate future and their long term career path. Examples include basic coding, developing virtual and augmentative reality games, creating a phone app, web design, recording a podcast, graphic design, learning to compost, and creating an apartment floor plan and prototype in a proposed affordable housing building. Our SYEP participants in the Food Business track created a restaurant experience for both families and other interested community members, where they also had an opportunity to showcase the businesses they wanted to develop, which involved creating a business plan for this idea. Many of these programs addressed social justice issues, such as climate change, food justice, bullying, and anti-immigrant sentiments, such as this Anti-Bullying Website developed by one group.

Here at the Y, we are committed to the importance of workforce development and collective impact in the programs we create. It is not just keeping youth off the streets while they earn a stipend; it is about giving them career development opportunities that allow them to reach their full potential. As stated by Martin Yafe, our Chief Program Officer, who addressed youth in the Health Careers track, many youth do not have an uncle or grandparent who will give them their first job or even an opportunity to build their resume. SYEP provides that. He also mentioned how our own Phoenix Madera, moved up from part-time After-School Group Leader to Director of SYEP – Younger Youth, himself, which also demonstrates our commitment to growth within our agency, not only for our participants but also for our staff.

To learn more about our SYEP and how you can be a work site or apply for an internship for next summer, click here.

About the Y
Established in 1917, the YM&YWHA of Washington Heights & Inwood (the Y) is Northern Manhattan’s premier Jewish community center — serving an ethnically and socio-economically diverse constituency — improving the quality of life for people of all ages through critical social services and innovative programs in health, wellness, education, and social justice, while promoting diversity and inclusion, and caring for those in need.

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