At STRIVE International, Harlem Youth Get the Skills and Support they Need to Land a Job—and Keep It header


At STRIVE International, Harlem Youth Get the Skills and Support they Need to Land a Job—and Keep It

STRIVE’s newest venture, Serve UP Harlem, prepares youth for careers in hospitality. This story is part of a series on the innovative ways that 2016 Youth Opportunity Fund community partners, supported by America’s Promise Alliance and the Citi Foundation, are placing low-income young adults on a path toward career success.

New York City’s Harlem has a long history of people helping out their neighbors. In the Great Depression, people kicked in money at rent parties so people could pay their landlords. They formed cooperatives to bring jobs and affordable goods to the community. For more than 30 years, STRIVE International has continued that tradition by prepring young Harlem residents for the workplace and helping them find jobs.

The newest part of the STRIVE effort, the East Harlem Talent Network (EHTN), works on both sides of the equation: It helps young people with little or no work experience learn what employers want, then guides them on the best ways to present themselves to hiring managers. It also works closely with employers, learning about their needs and suggesting people who can fill them.

In the two years since it was founded, EHTN has placed more than 100 of its trainees into jobs. The program has forged 120 partnerships with employers, most in the service sector, where the vast majority of new jobs are being created. These range from giant companies like Starbucks, Target, and the Gap, to smaller restaurant groups like Harlem Shake, Dig Inn, and Chaiwali.

Partnering with the Wider Community

In April 2016, Starbucks and STRIVE cosponsored a hiring fair that was attended by hundreds of jobseekers and more than 50 Starbucks managers, including Dwayne Peoples, the manager of the Starbucks at 114th Street and Broadway. Since then, Peoples has hired three STRIVE trainees as baristas at a starting wage of $14 an hour.

“We are in a hiring mode now,” Peoples says. He works closely with Adriane Mack, EHTN’s program coordinator—she does initial screening interviews and then refers good candidates to him. Starbucks and STRIVE held another joint hiring event April 15 to keep up the recruitment effort.

Last year, STRIVE and EHTN received a Youth Opportunity Fund grant to launch Serve UP Harlem, in which participants undergo a two week 80-hour training that prepares them for a future in the hospitality business. Participants also learn how to manage their finances and time management, and they obtain a soft skills customer training credential in partnership with eCornell, Cornell University’s online learning platform.


Daquan Brown, a 20-year-old graduate of Herbert Lehman High School in the Bronx, recently completed the Serve UP Harlem training. He says he has learned a lot about how to treat and greet customers, and he got help with his resume. Now he is getting ready for a job interview with a new San Francisco street food restaurant in Harlem.

“My immediate goal is to get hired and work my way up,” Brown says. After he proves himself, he hopes to be able to get some training from the chefs. “I like to cook, so my long-term goal is to be a chef.”

Assessing Individual Interests, Needs

EHTN’s approach is to meet with jobseekers individually and learn about their background, skills and interests. Most of their clients are between 18 and 24 years old, but they will work with any Harlem resident, says Cassandra Charles, a career pathways coordinator for EHTN.

The first step is assessment. People without high school diplomas, about 15 percent of the clients, get referred to educational partners to help them get their GED.

People interested in non-food service or hospitality careers are referred to one of STRIVE’s other in-house training programs, such as Green Construction/Maintenance or Health & Office Operations, or to external partners for programs such as GED support, Home Health Aide training, and security. EHTN works with more than 40 community-based partner organizations across Upper Manhattan.

If there’s one thing STRIVE’s staff members understand, it’s that their job doesn’t end when their clients get hired. STRIVE caseworkers check in with people who have been placed in jobs and their managers for six months to see how they’re doing and if they have any special needs or problems.

“Anyone can find a job,” says Charles. “We help them keep a job. We want to surround them with the skills and support they need to land and hold a job.”

“That means we have to understand the obstacles they face and the setbacks they experience—whether it’s arranging childcare, transportation to work or having the right clothes for work. We talk to them and help them with these issues; we don’t walk away from them.”

The Youth Opportunity Fundis part of the Citi Foundation’s Pathways to Progress initiative. Pathways to Progress launched in 2014 in the United States with a $50 million, three-year commitment that helped more than 100,000 young people, ages 16-24, across 10 cities to become career-ready through first jobs, internships, and leadership and entrepreneurship training. In February 2017 the Citi Foundation announced a global expansion of the Pathways to Progress initiative with a $100 million, three-year investment to prepare 500,000 young people for today’s competitive job market.