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YES Mid-Program Report: NYC Youth Speak about Their Experience

August 14, 2020

Jennifer Friedlin

When the Summer Youth Employment Program was canceled, you could practically feel the collective dismay of tens of thousands of New York City youth who faced yet another disappointment in a season defined by loss. In a typical year, SYEP offers income-generating, skills-building summer jobs to more than 70,000 teens and young adults, ages 14 – 24.

Fortunately, New Yorkers, led by the vociferous youth of Teens Take Charge, were determined to rescue and revamp a summer program for today’s realities. In our role as a systems-builder and problem solver, ExpandED Schools brought together over 100 community-based organizations, companies, and donors to devise in breakneck speed the Youth Employment Summer plan, which created a model for virtual summer career exploration program. When the City announced that it would fund 35,000 stipended summer experiences through a new program called Summer Bridge, YES was ready to roll.

Thanks to a tri-sector collaboration that was able to rapidly respond to the crisis, troubleshoot on the fly, and keep the focus on the needs of young people, the program has been a tremendous success.

“The loss of learning time and the increased social isolation, not to mention the virus itself, are taking a toll on New York City youth, so having succeeded in delivering a program that allows them to engage with peers and adult facilitators while learning important skills is beyond gratifying,” says Saskia Traill, President & CEO of ExpandED.

Below are condensed interviews with four young people participating in Summer Bridge through RiseBoro, a community-based organization based in Brooklyn. RiseBoro’s program offers four tracks for two different age groups, young and older youth. Thanks to YES and Summer Bridge, all the youth are gaining new skills and, perhaps even more importantly, making meaningful connections to offset intense social isolation.


Selinee, 19
Health and Wellness Track

I am a college student in nursing school. When COVID hit I had been looking forward to my internships but they were all canceled. When I heard SYEP was also cancelled, I was really disappointed. Then I was going through social media and saw that SYEP was coming back and that it would be called Summer Bridge. I was relieved.

After I applied I learned that there were different modules. Since I’m already going for a major in healthcare, I thought why don’t I go for the Health and Wellness module. I thought I would be participating with a bunch of high schoolers, but it was a surprise to me how much high schoolers’ mentality has changed.

A lot of the comments and discussions have been interesting. I came here for my first year of high school from the Dominican Republic. For me it was a culture shock to see how teenagers think here. Through Summer Bridge, I see that young people are concerned about their communities and even their health. For example we had a really interesting conversation about food deserts.

Through Summer Bridge I have also become more comfortable talking to strangers. I was shier before, I would say. I sometimes get anxiety talking to strangers and now I’m forced to. We also talk about mental health and how isolation is affecting us.

Starting next week we are going to do a research project. I still don’t know what it will be about, but I am really looking forward to it. Today we also have someone coming in – a health expert – we’re all really excited about that. I don’t know who it is. It’s a surprise.

For me, I was hoping to develop my skills this summer and since my internships were cancelled this program has been a good experience. Plus, I get to earn money which will go to helping my parents to pay my tuition.


Patricia, 20
Entrepreneurship Track

I go to CUNY and I’m currently studying for a BFA in electrical design. This summer I was supposed to have my first professional internship but it was rescinded and I was really let down. When I got news that I got into Summer Bridge, it really made my spirits go up.

I’ve been learning a lot about entrepreneurial skills. We’ve learned about business models and so many different things. Even things I wouldn’t think about when thinking about entrepreneurship – personality types, what type of leader are you. I’ve been thinking a lot more about different career types.

I used to be the type of kid who would sell candy bars at school. I used to make these beaded necklaces and sell them in school, so I feel I always had a bit of an entrepreneur in me but I hadn’t thought of it as a possibility. More recently I was thinking about being a freelance designer – and freelancing is like running your own business. Or what if I was an art therapist and had my own private practice?

For the group projects, we are all tackling a UN sustainability goal. Some people are working on projects like how to make a business that tackles clean water or better access to education. It is inspiring to be around people my age who care about the world around us. I have never before worked on something that feels so significant with people my age.

It’s been nice to meet people around my age. I’ve been giving college advice and how to navigate the process with COVID. I want to pass on knowledge. Summer Bridge is the highlight of my day. I get to
sign on and socialize with other people, even if it’s through Zoom.

Leomary Nunez, 18
Climate Change Track

I really like Summer Bridge. Everyone is really inviting, especially the facilitators. I like the group work. We are currently learning about the climate change crisis, and we’ve been applying that to our own community. We’ve learned about air pollution, land pollution, plastic pollution and we had an assignment to go out and look at our neighborhood. Wow, there is a lot of pollution in my neighborhood!

I was just walking with my dog and I saw that the sewage drains were full of garbage. People just dump stuff and the garbage cans are always so full that people just drop stuff on the ground. People also choose to drop their garbage right where the trees are, rather than in the garbage cans. It’s really sad to see that people aren’t taking care of their neighborhood.

I learned that I can also play a part in this crisis – either as part of the problem or part of the solution. So I’ve been more aware of my impact. I can use social media to let people know that even with small actions you can make a problem better or worse.

Right now we are working in groups and also working on problem solving. We learned that first you need to know the problem and then think about ways to solve it. I’m planning to become a social worker and to work with kids, so I can apply this. First I need to know their background and then I can help them.

When I learned SYEP was cancelled I was really disappointed because I was trying to get more work experience at a hospital. But this summer I wouldn’t be able to go there and get hands-on experience. It was disappointing.

I’m grateful for Summer Bridge. The facilitators always check in before we begin each day and it’s nice to start off the day knowing that people are there for you and care for you and then I get the chance to learn.

Isaiah, 18
Financial Wellness Track

I just graduated high school and I’m on my way to college – I’m going to Fredonia to study musical theater. I’m an actor/singer.

I was put in the Financial Wellness track and we’re learning how we can become financially stable. We learn about how to save money, what to spend it on, what not to spend it on. We talk about our career goals. I knew what I wanted to do, and this gave me more resources and tips.

My group project is about homelessness. We are making a short documentary about it. We were all given roles and I did research and looked up stats on homelessness. I learned that the majority of homeless people in New York are homeless because of how expensive it is to live here. Out of the whole country New York has the most homeless because it’s so expensive.

I do really feel bad – days like this when it rains they have to live through this while I’m in my room, cozy. I also learned that the majority of the homeless are retired veterans – not a good thing. The fact that you are homeless after you served the country. It’s confusing.

Summer Bridge is like school because we’re learning but everyone is so nice to us and they do their jobs really well. The facilitators are really cool and they know about this stuff – everyone in the group makes everything so easy. And I like getting to be social with the group. Everyone is getting to know about each other.

These are just four of the 35,000 stories of young people from across NYC who are unlocking their creativity and learning new skills for college and career. Stay tuned for more updates!