Why is SYEP essential to NYC?

Students working for SYEP.
Students working for SYEP.
Photo Credit: Adi Talwar Summer Youth Employment Program participants working in a community garden in the East Village in 2018.

Being a Youth Worker during COVID-19 has become very difficult because of the uncertainty with youth programming this upcoming summer. The impact of canceling youth employment programs and summer camps is completely wiping out our youth programming department at HANAC Inc. I am an Associate Director of Youth Programs as well as the Director of Youth Employment Programs. Our youth programs consist of 2 Beacon, 2 COMPASS, Cornerstone, SONYC, Councilmanic, Work, Learn, & Grow Employment Program, Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) Community-Based & 5 Career Ready SYEP programs in The Bronx, Queens, & Manhattan. A total of 14 youth programs that will be on pause come to an end of the fiscal year on June 30, 2020. There’s a high possibility that all of the staff in youth programming be unemployed until further notice.

I have been working with SYEP since I was 14 years old as a participant. Throughout the years, I worked at Beacon, Councilmanic, COMPASS, In-School Youth (Learn & Earn) until I transferred into SYEP and been there ever since. Programs like Learn & Earn and SYEP helped me stay focused on my academic and financial goals throughout each summer when I was out of school. SYEP is the nation’s largest youth employment program. It currently provides paid summer jobs to 75,000 NYC youth ages 14-24 every summer. This program has a decades-long history of uplifting impoverished youth who would otherwise struggle to access the labor market while providing an economic lifeline to their families. This program alone serves 75,000 families.

HANAC has sponsored the SYEP program since its inception for over four decades for younger and older youth for the last 46-years. HANAC was projected to serve 1735 participants this upcoming summer in our 6 SYEP programs. Our SYEP projected Budget for FY 20-21 was $1,079,700.00, not including the amendment budget for the Work, Learn, and Grow Employment program, which is a program that continues after SYEP. Our SYEP team has been ramping up services in preparation for Summer 2020 and has been working on contingency plans to provide safe, remote programming to comply with social distancing guidelines. We want to continue to create remote experiences connected to career pathways. We would also like to partner with our worksites to see how the youth can assist them remotely. Activities can include project-based learning, virtual job placements, career exploration, occupational training resulting in an industry-recognized credential, community service projects, and pre-college academic coursework.

We are deeply concerned with the well-being of the 1735 young people in our community. They are now left without programs this summer after months of distance-learning and concerned that without alternative programming to keep them engaged, they may not continue to follow social distancing guidelines. The older youth ages 16 to 24 by not having an alternative opportunity will become disconnected youth or opportunity youth ÔÇô defined as young people between the ages of 16 and 24 who are neither enrolled in school nor participating in the labor market. SYEP is vital to the economic, social, and professional growth of young New Yorkers. At a time when low-income families across New York City are in crisis, the government needs to use every opportunity it has to put cash directly into the hands of young people and families. Families around NYC are in a financial crisis. A paid summer job for a young person helps the whole family. Given the tremendous financial strain on hundreds of thousands of low-income New York City families right now, we should be expanding paid summer opportunities, not cutting them.

I firmly believe SYEP is one of the best ways to keep young people safe and engaged. Summer youth programs have been instrumental in closing the gap, educating, lifting, and providing opportunities to young people who would not otherwise have them. SYEP has been proven to reduce summer learning-loss, increasing GPAs, and retention for participants the semester following their participation. Programs like SYEP help prepare students for higher education and successful careers. SYEP is a necessary economic stimulus. Not only are youth engaged in safe, pro-social, job readiness activities, but businesses benefit from an infusion of resourceful youth that supports their business and enhances their productivity. The support of SYEP is going to be needed now more than ever, whether or not we still have social distancing. SYEP supports are essential to the City’s recovery from COVID-19. Decades of work will be undone within a summer of no- programming as agencies will struggle to stay afloat. Youth programs like SYEP employed thousands of people; the youth are not the only ones losing their jobs.

Youth Studies Alumni Natalie Martinez. I am a Master of Arts in Youth Studies graduate from the City University of New York School of Professional Studies. I have fifteen years of experience in the youth development field, working with youth ages 5 to 24.

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  1. Carolina

    Wonderful article Natalie. My thoughts are heavily with our youth during this uncertain time in our nation, but more closely- in our city. You captured what so many donÔÇÖt consider when making budget cuts that impact one of our most vulnerable populations. IÔÇÖm hoping they will re-consider this ÔÇ£solutionÔÇØ.