Sixteen-year-old Almesha Duhart is one of 3,000 teens and college students participating in Newark’s 2020 Summer Youth Employment Program. It launched virtually this week.
“Just being inside, in the house, not really being able to interact with other people, but being given the opportunity virtually is amazing. Our first workshop, we were observing different stories about the pandemic from the youth in the city of Newark,” she said.
Youth Program Director Marsha Armstrong says the program offers a combination of college prep, financial literacy and career development webinars.
“We have two cohorts. We have a college cohort, as we’ve always had, and we have a cohort that serves young people between 14-24 that are getting workforce development and project-based learning. And for our college students, some of them have internships and they are working with places such as Abbott Leadership Institute and The Gem Project, and they are also on platforms, they’re doing a lot of data, they’re learning about issues around the pandemic,” she said.
The program, which is funded through public and private donations, is following a “learn and earn” model this year.
“Everyone that’s logging on, that’s doing their financial literacy, they’re doing their sessions, all of them are getting a stipend to be a part of the program. You know, usually we go by minimum wage, but because this is a learn and earn we have to modify that, and of course we want to serve as many students as we could. One thing I want to highlight attendance. It’s really excited because you see that young people want something to do,” Armstrong said.
Twenty-one-year old New Jersey City University student Shakieth Cohen says the program is helping him strengthen his resume — an advantage that could help him land a job in a tough job market.
“This plays a major role because I was still able to do a summer internship, I was still able to get out the house and do something for a few hours, and it truly gave me the opportunity to learn new things within my major. Also it give me the opportunity to meet other people in the community. It’s not always about what you know, it’s about who you know sometimes,” Cohen said.
Armstrong says the program has also given the city a way to connect social services with students and families who have been severely impacted by COVID.
“We were able to get their addresses and share it with our mayor’s aide so that those young people could get food delivered,” Armstrong said.
And since the program is aimed at empowering youth to chase their dreams, students are also given guidance on overcoming personal struggles like food insecurity and mental health. The program runs through Aug. 14.
Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America is a multiplatform public media initiative that provides a deeper understanding of the impact of poverty on American society. Major funding for this initiative is provided by the JPB Foundation. Additional funding is provided by Ford Foundation.