SYEP at the Y 2021 Kevin Blanco, workforce development at YM&YWHA

Workforce Development and Youth Employment Thrive at the Y

While the pandemic continues, and we still face uncertain days ahead, the Y remains committed to workforce development and youth employment to ensure a brighter future for our community.

The New York City Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) has been a staple for teens and younger adults since 1963. SYEP at the Y has especially cared for the betterment of local youth’s future, and the Y’s workforce development program has been training youth to challenge themselves and grow towards their career goals for more than 40 years. 

With two tracks, SYEP is designed to teach workplace etiquette and career skills through project-based learning to younger youth, ages 14 – 15, while giving older youth, ages 16 – 21, a chance to gain work experience based on their interests, goals, and professional needs. As a result, teens and young adults are better prepared for their career paths. 

SYEP at the Y 2021 Younger Youth Participant Azreen Abrar

“My experience with SYEP has been wonderful so far,” said Azreen Abrar, SYEP at the Y younger youth participant. “From the people to the practical experience, everything was worth it. I was on a debate track, and my group leader and instructor were some of the best. ‘Debate the topic, not the person’ is one of the quotes my instructor repeated every day. It will always stay close to my heart, as law and government is the career I am pursuing. This program not only gives young students a chance to earn money, but also teaches us to be more collaborative and more proactive rather than reactive.”

SYEP at the Y has a variety of workforce development and job opportunities in non-profit organizations, for-profit companies, and educational institutions. This summer, older youth had the option to work in-person, remote, or in hybrid positions to gain practical experience. Whether onsite or remote, the jobs offer the opportunity to work alongside professionals. 

“My only expectation for SYEP was to have meaningful work experiences, instead of busy work, which can happen during many internships,” said Kevin Blanco, SYEP at the Y older youth participant. “To my surprise, I experienced something rather incredible at the Y. I found a humble, welcoming, and supportive work community. Most importantly, I found a warm and understanding mentor who helped sharpen my marketing skills and gave me fulfilling work that I feel proud to publish and put on my resume.”

SYEP at the Y 2021 Kevin Blanco Zoom Screenshot

There are many mentors and role models at the Y, like SYEP at the Y Younger Youth Director Phoenix Madera, who finds it rewarding to help youth with so much to look forward to, reminding him of when he was younger. “My one regret is that more young people cannot participate in SYEP, because the system is based on a lottery and NYC’s budget,” said Madera. “More youth could benefit from the program and improve their career paths, if they had the opportunity to join.”

SYEP at the Y Older Youth Director Natalie Villanueva has been a valuable resource for participants and enjoys serving her “community, and providing information and a path for success for the youth’s long-term career goals, while putting smiles on their faces.” She believes “it  takes a village” and is “grateful to help youth reach their potential through SYEP at the Y. Through the program, youth learn networking skills, how to communicate with employers, how to put themselves out there and brand themselves and, most importantly, what they are good at and what they enjoy.”

For more than 40 years, the Y has been dedicated to youth employment, workforce development, and professional training. “The most difficult barrier to creating a successful career for a young adult is the lack of experience,” shared SYEP at the Job Developer Adrian Enriquez. He appreciates the opportunity to help better the lives of youth in his community and to provide young people with the experience they need to work for their dream careers.

Thanks to the Y’s focus on community, and strong connections it has made over the years, SYEP at the Y placed nearly 1,000 participants at 80 different worksites this year for in-person, virtual, or hybrid summer employment.

By Kevin Blanco, SYEP @ the Y Marketing & Communications 2021; junior, the University at Buffalo. Kevin has always been fascinated with writing and marketing. In his spare time, you can find him playing guitar, learning new things about business and the world, or playing with his dog.

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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