Eddie Silverio is the director of Alianza Youth Services for Catholic Charities of New York, and I think he literally knows everybody. I suspect this because I was on a Zoom townhall with Eddie and 342 of his closest friends on Thursday June 4th to find out why the Summer programs of the Youth Division, in particular the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP), are so important.
First of all, the SYEP is not new, it’s been around since the 1990s. But now, in 2020, the program is coming close to being underfunded. That’s why the guests included Congressional representative Adriano Espaillat, Council member Vanessa Gibson, and more. Eddie was calling out mothers and kids, lawyers and agency leaders, graduates of the SYEP and those currently enrolled to speak out for the value the program provides. In fact, almost every person in that town hall was in or had passed through the SYEP at some point in their lives.
WHY DID THIS EVENT HAPPEN?
New York City is working on its budget. It’s not hard to imagine that the Coronavirus has pummeled the budget beyond recognition. But one thing came to light that was of grave concern – the budget for Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD) is going to be slashed by 33%. That’s where city funding SYEP comes from. In contrast, and of current importance, the NYPD is being slashed by a 1%. So, the townhall happened in order to make it clear what we stand to lose if the funding for DYCD is gutted.
Budget cuts might make the Summer Youth Employment Program virtually impossible, and that’s bad. Here’s why:
- This Summer, it is likely that Youth Centers, parks, and other places where New York City’s youth can get outside and play, may be closed or restricted. Our youth need direction when not in school. The Summer Youth Employment Program gives them an activity to focus on.
- “Giving young people work”, as Ed de Jesus explained, “gives them vital experience.” That experience is what opens doors to other work. Ed also explained how SYEP also gives our youth connections with members of the work force and community businesses, all of which come together to raise their salary potential, making it possible for them to not just scrape by in NYC but to thrive here.
- Many young people spoke up saying why Alianza’s summer programs mean so much to them. Those programs are at the core of their community. It’s where these brave, well-spoken kids (many sounding like advocates in the making) make close friends, and where they get to learn civic responsibility – to lend a hand to better their community.
Quenia Abreu infused some hope into the discussion. She talked about the innovative use of telecommunications for things like ‘remote training’ and proposed the possibility of ‘remote partnerships’ where youth could participate in remote work. Her point being, new approaches could keep the programs alive.
There were so many people (as I mentioned, 342) and so many of them chimed in, either cheering on the younger people who were speaking up for their programs, or talking on behalf of the City and State legislators, or on behalf of the family of programs within the Youth Division of Catholic Charities Community Services.
It is abundantly clear how important the summer programs are for kids and for their parents – for entire families and the whole community – for right now and for the future. And Mayor de Blasio must see it too.
A GOOD SIGN
Two days after this townhall event, the New York Times reported that Mayor de Blasio is diverting funds away from the New York City Police Department, which currently consumes 6% of the $90 Billion annual budget. Those funds (the Mayor did not say precisely how much) will be reallocated towards youth initiatives and social services.
“Our young people do not need to be policed, they need to be reached,” said de Blasio in the state of the city.