Help Us Save Summer Youth Programs

Steven Portericker remembers his first summer job—which he got at age 14 through New York City’s Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP). “I felt proud of myself and confident,” he recalls. “It was great to feel like my presence mattered.”

Portericker, a senior manager who helps oversee all of Goddard’s youth programs, stayed in SYEP for four years. He recalls using his paychecks to buy school clothes, taking some pressure off the family budget. His job even shaped his life’s path: working with younger children at a local museum “got me excited about youth work and how important it is to be a mentor.”

Some 75,000 young New Yorkers are in danger of missing out on opportunities like that this summer due to fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. Mayor Bill De Blasio’s proposed budget does not contain funding for SYEP.  There’s also no money for city-funded summer camps, which provide positive activities for young people of all ages.

Goddard has joined a rising chorus of voices to restore that funding. We’re participating in advocacy with United Neighborhood Houses, the umbrella organization for us and our 42 fellow settlement houses in New York City. We’ve signed onto campaigns by Teens Take Charge and Campaign for Children. And last week Executive Director Roderick L. Jones submitted testimony to City Council in support of summer programs.

“Young people have now been in lockdown for months,” he testified. “Summer is here, and without programs like Summer Camp and the Summer Youth Employment Program, they may have no structure or access to positive activities. Those who face problems at home may have no mentors to turn to. They will be vulnerable to other, less positive forces in their lives.”

Of course, to keep everyone safe, these programs would have to follow social distancing guidelines. Youth program leaders across the city have been meeting to plan new ways to do summer activities. One place they can turn for inspiration is Goddard’s own Learning to Work program.

Learning to Work is embedded at West Side High, a transfer school. It helps students re-engage with school and stay on track to get their diplomas. It also offers internships to help them explore career tracks and build their resumes.

Learning to Work has taken its internships online with gusto. One of the units it’s offering is modeled on the reality TV show Shark Tank. Participants attend Zoom meetings to learn about entrepreneurship. Then they design a product, write a pitch for it, and make a presentation to their peers and a panel of judges. The students have also learned budgeting, how to research colleges, and how to create a resume and promotional flyers.

“There’s a lot of career readiness you can do,” says Learning to Work director Jose Manzano. “There are also companies that are more than likely interested in remote internships.”

Goddard and our fellow nonprofits are eager to pioneer new solutions for summer programming. But we need the city’s support. Want to help?