Monique Myers directs a summer employment program with 2,000 city youths through Alianza, a Catholic Charities agency in the Bronx and Upper Manhattan. They come with varying degrees of hopes, anxieties and determination. Monique knows what that is like.
She’s been with the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) ever since 2013 when, while still a student at the State University of New York at New Paltz, she walked through the doors and took up office work. Her determination and skills were evident enough that she was gobbled up by the program, quickly moving into responsible administrative roles.
“It’s learning what it means to work,” she said about SYEP, which is funded by the City of New York and expanded this summer as Mayor Eric Adams touted such programs for keeping young people off the streets and away from temptation and violence.
If young people had more opportunities, we would have fewer young people getting into trouble
Monique’s job consists of leading in both training and sending out young people all over the city to earn much-needed income and the long-term skills needed to be productive workers. Those accepted into the program – not everyone can be accepted as there remains limited room – are between the ages of 16 and 24. About 700, mostly younger people in that cohort, are selected for a summertime of classes, focused on job training. The others, some 1,300, work on city council projects, in other government offices, and in retail outlets throughout the Bronx and Manhattan.
SYEP’s training focuses on what are described as job soft skills, particularly communication, so that young people “know what it means to have a job.” Instruction emphasizes issues about communicating with bosses, particularly over concerns such as scheduling, and how to constructively handle conflicts at the workplace.
Monique, raised in the Sugar Hill section of Harlem, knows the world of the SYEP young people. She studied business and accounting in college, as well as Black Studies, honing both her entrepreneurial and social justice activism skills. At New Paltz, she worked on police and minority student relationships in the college hamlet.
Many of the SYEP students come from immigrant backgrounds. Monique understands that world, as her grandmother came from Jamaica, West Indies, worked at the Hebrew Home in the Bronx, and eventually studied cosmetology and opened her own hair business. “I understand what it means to not have your papers,” she said, noting that much of her work involves smoothing the legal right to work of students entering the program who were not born in the United States.
She agrees with the mayor that summer youth employment is a positive step in violence prevention.
“If young people had more opportunities, we would have fewer young people getting into trouble,” she says. There is much economic distress around the city these days, she says, and many of the SYEP students are helping to provide for their families at a young age, as well as saving money for college and future training.
“Young people need money and they need it now,” she says. “Some need it because there is no food on the table at home.”