Standing before the neon-lit glow of CAMBA food pantry’s hydroponic garden, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Councilman Mathieu Eugene, and community advocates kicked off the first day of the city’s expanded summer youth employment program – which, amidst the growing bok choi, lettuce, and cilantro, the leaders said would help to make a dent in unemployment and bring much-needed services to communities across the five boroughs.
“The summer youth employment program is an invaluable opportunity for our youth to take advantage of the diversity of industry and career opportunities New York City has to offer,” Mark-Viverito said Monday morning at the food pantry at CAMBA (2241 Church Ave.), a nonprofit that works with 645 students in 82 sites as part of the summer program. “In getting a head start this summer, the next generation of innovators will cultivate the tools they need to surmount the challenges of unemployment and economic hardship facing our workforce.”
At least 12 young people will work at CAMBA’s pantry until mid-August, doing everything from helping to tend to the plants in the year-old hydroponic garden, which grows items that go directly to the facility, to organizing the food at the pantry that serves about 4,300 families a month. The hundreds of others who CAMBA works with as part of the program are placed in a variety of government agencies and private nonprofits, working in a range of positions, including camp counselors, hospital and recreational aides, and library assistants.
Those individuals are among the thousands of young workers participating in the summer youth employment program, which places people ages 14 to 24 in paid positions for up to six weeks in July and August. After facing years of cuts under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration, the program was given a financial boost in the City Council’s 2015 budget. In the 2015 budget, the Council invested $17.5 million to support an additional 10,700 summer jobs and to create 22,000 slots for summer out-of-school time programs – bringing the total number of summer job positions to about 46,000.
The summer employment program “provides our youth with the experiences, skills, and confidence they need to succeed in society,” said Eugene. “As the chair of the (Council’s) Youth Services Committee, I have been tirelessly advocating for improving and increasing services for our young people. We must continue to make a strong investment in our youth to guarantee that they will remain on a positive path that allows them to flourish.”
The Council speaker too emphasized the need to continue to grow employment opportunities, noting that far more people apply for the summer youth program than there are slots. According to Mark-Viverito, more than 100,000 individuals applied this year for the program – more than double the number of slots available.
“There’s so much more of a need,” Mark-Viverito said. “…We need to do so much more.”
Taylor Woods, 21, of Canarsie, said she had been looking for work for about six months before being accepted to the summer program. Woods, who has participated in the program twice before, working at a nursing home and a daycare center, will work at CAMBA’s food pantry.
“People my age – 19, 20, 21 – it’s hard because employers want people with experience, and people my age don’t have experience,” Woods said. “This program give us experience, and it prepares you for the real world. I’m hoping to become a health inspector, so working at the pantry will give me real world experience in my field.”
A number of area leaders too stressed the experience young workers are able to land through the program.
“It’s about what it’s like to be in the workplace,” said Valerie Barton-Richardson, executive vice president at CAMBA. “…These experiences are going to be the building blocks of future careers.”
Alison Haberly, vice president of youth and education at CAMBA, and Janet Miller, senior vice president at CAMBA, both emphasized the importance of the workers at the food pantry, which serves a growing variety of families, from individuals often referred to as the working poor to undocumented seniors and people whose unemployment benefits have run out.
“It’s a labor intensive process,” Miller said in reference to working at the pantry. “We have two full-time staff people, and we need at least five to six more people during service times.”
The food pantry, located at 2241 Church Ave., is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10am to 1pm.
Photos by William Alatriste/NYC Council