City Youth Explore Career Possibilities with SYEP
By Tiffany Zheng and Angelinna Veras
New York City’s Summer Youth Employment Program is the nation’s largest program of its kind, connecting New Yorkers ages 14 to 24 with opportunities to earn money while exploring careers each summer. Henry Street Settlement, through its partnership with the Department of Youth and Community Development, connected 1,804 youth with a sweeping variety of jobs across 265 worksites this summer.
Easing Barriers to Employment for Youth
Of these youth, 12% were residents of the Bernard M. Baruch and Lillian Wald Houses, who applied to the program through the CareerFirst initiative, which prioritized New York City Housing Authority residents across the city. Another initiative, Emerging Leaders, targeted youth who face employment barriers because they are unhoused, live in foster care, have experience with the criminal legal system, or meet other eligibility requirements. Henry Street placed 639 young people in jobs through this initiative across New York City.
Learning the Ropes as a Camp Counselor
Among the 16 sites where Henry Street placed SYEP workers was Camp Henry at Boys & Girls Republic, where the quintessential summer job of camp counselor gave youth workers a crash course in problem solving, time management, and teamwork. Ruben Thompson, 18, commuted to the Lower East Side from Brooklyn to start his workday at BGR at 8 a.m. No two days were the same; he says his favorite activities were teaching campers about different decades of music and dance. Ruben also helped organize talent shows on Fridays for the kids to show off their dance moves.
Though summer camp is full of fun activities, Ruben says striking the balance of being a caring but firm counselor was a challenge. “I wanted them to see me as both a friend and a counselor, but when I was only trying to be their friend, they didn’t take me seriously,” he says. “I’m an only child, so it was nice to explore something new and figure out that I like to work with kids.” Now, Ruben says he wants to pursue a career in education.
Paid Career-Development Opportunities
In recent years, the SYEP program has offered not only traditional jobs but paid career-development opportunities so that young people can learn during the summer without sacrificing the chance to earn a paycheck. Yuying Lei’s experience with the ATTAIN Lab is an example of the program’s invaluable support for professional preparation. ATTAIN (Advanced Technology Training and Information Networking)—a partnership with the State University of New York located in Henry Street’s Education Services building—provides a wide range of online learning courses ranging from Microsoft Office certification to learning a new language.
Yuying Lei learned Microsoft computer skills through a paid career-development opportunity at Henry Street’s ATTAIN Lab.
As a college student majoring in business management with a marketing concentration, learning the fundamentals of systems like Excel is crucial for Yuying, 20. “These lessons taught in the ATTAIN Lab would cost me $200 or more if I took it somewhere else.”
As a non-native English speaker, Yuying often struggles to reach out for help because of the communication barriers she faces. But at the ATTAIN Lab, she says the instructors, Lesley Rojas and Nathan O’Flynn-Pruitt, provide personal assistance and guidance. Another SYEP participant, Jacky Chen, 17, attests to the supportive environment, saying, “When I first joined the program, I was super nervous because this was my first job, but Lesley quickly reassured me that this lab is a safe space for me to make mistakes and learn from them.”
Henry Street Settlement connected 1,804 youth with jobs across 265 worksites this summer.
Just a short walk from the computer lab, the SYEP fashion designers at Rambler Studios were preparing for a fashion showcase to close out their six-week project-based learning experience. Rambler Studios is on a mission to empower young individuals to navigate life’s journey through the realm of design. The studio merges street fashion and personal narratives to craft a unique avenue for expression.
SYEP participants at Rambler Studios learned to sew their own clothing and share their designs on the runway. Right image by Rashawn Austin.
Sukilie Hughes, 20, says learning the fundamentals of making clothing from scratch has been a challenge, but her first encounter with a sewing machine helped her foster friendships with the other “Ramblers.”
“In the studio, we all help each other,” Sukilie says. “We got to travel to Chanel and see the alterations floor. We met with Macy’s designers and saw the process of pattern making. These experiences were once-in-a-lifetime opportunities I got to share with my design partners.”
One of the newest project-based learning experiences this year for 14- and 15-year-olds was with Junior Achievement, a nonprofit that teaches financial literacy and prepares young people for economic success. “Our partnership with Junior Achievement was such a cool experience,” says Johanna Ramirez, director of SYEP at Henry Street. “It allowed us to expose young people to budgeting, saving, investing, how to do their taxes–things they don’t really get in school.”
Connecting with Community Through Food Justice
Back at Henry Street’s headquarters, tucked in the historic buildings’ courtyard, SYEP participants with the LES Ecology Center harvested fresh tomatoes, carrots, edible flowers, and herbs. A longtime SYEP employment partner, the center teaches young people about food justice, sustainability, and land stewardship.
Joseph Sanchez makes pesto using fresh herbs he grew in the Henry Street Settlement Food Justice Garden with the LES Ecology Center.
Joseph Sanchez, 17, says his work with the LES Ecology Center has felt more like a “fun summer camp, with the upside of being paid.” Joseph has been inspired by all the teachings of the community garden space at Henry Street, sharing his knowledge about how basil offers natural pest repellant for tomatoes. The participants harvest from garden and share what they’ve gathered in local community fridges. “I would love to start my own urban garden as it’s been such a fun experience, but it is a lot of collaborative work,” he says. “Maybe when I’m older.”
Johanna says that 2023 was the first summer since the pandemic began where things felt like normal for the program. She and her team closed out the summer with a large resource fair on August 17 where SYEP participants explored Henry Street’s other program offerings in employment, education, and the arts, and met with job recruiters. “It was the best way to end the summer.”
For more information about SYEP and other youth employment opportunities through Henry Street, click here.