A new workforce development program, City Service Corps, is helping young adults in New York City gain valuable work experience through service. This story is part of a series on the innovative ways that 2015 Youth Opportunity Fund grantees are supporting innovative and scalable programs that increase the employability of young people and connect them to economic opportunities in their cities. The $3 million Fund is led by the Citi Foundation and America’s Promise Alliance.
Abby Jordan, 22, had her eye on the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs.
“My parents are from El Salvador,” she said. “I grew up in New York, and every single one of my friends is a child of immigrants.”
She was applying to City Service Corps, a new program that both prepares members for the workforce and unites a diverse group of professionals to address community needs. In partnership with the United Way of New York and the Service Year Alliance, the program is led by NYC Service, a division of the Office of the Mayor, whose mission is to mobilize volunteers and service year members to impact New York City’s greatest needs.
Like many of the 53 members who were accepted in the program, Jordan ended up exactly where she wanted to be—working on social issues she’s passionate about.
“We’re not just sitting around answering emails,” Jordan said of her work. “It’s a lot of responsibility.”
While Jordan spends her time at the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, other City Service Corps members are spread out in a variety of different agencies. In the Office of Financial Empowerment, for instance, one Corps member works on getting low-income New Yorkers information about the Earned Income Tax Credit and how to use financial resources for their family.
Members at the Administration for Children’s Services work with youth in group homes to create service learning projects that help young people connect with their communities in more meaningful ways. At the Department of Sanitation and various environmental organizations and botanical gardens, members’ public outreach focuses on breaking down barriers to environmental stewardship access by helping NYC Housing Authority residents learn about the importance of recycling and composting.
And at the Department of Probation, current corps members, who are also probation clients, work on everything from community outreach to research at affiliated community-based organizations.
"The expansion of NYC service year programs will ensure we continue to address New York City's greatest needs while supporting workforce development and developing civic leaders,” said NYC Chief Service Officer Paula Gavin.
A New AmeriCorps Program Model
Corps Members work full-time for a modest stipend, after which they receive the $5,730 AmeriCorps Education Award, the title of AmeriCorps alum, and a pathway to a career in service.
But the difference between City Service Corps and most AmeriCorps programs is that City Service Corps’ operating and member costs are not funded by the Corporation for National and Community Service. Instead, the program gets its funding from a mix of private and public sources.
While City Service Corps recruits members of all ages, it is specifically using the Youth Opportunity Fund to reach New York City’s low-income young adults. Of the current 53 full-time members, more than half are from low-income families. The majority of members are also young people of color, an important statistic given that the highest youth unemployment rates in the city are found among black and Hispanic youth.
“We see this as a workforce development program, so we come with that as a lens first of all,” said Aaron Miner, the program’s director. At the same time, NYC Service wanted city agencies to benefit from the program as much as members. So in the planning process, they asked themselves two questions:
“How could city agencies really utilize service year members for some of their greatest needs and challenges?” and “How could they address some of the most pressing work in their agency to help make the city of New York a more equitable place for all New Yorkers?”
To be eligible for the program, Miner said all members must be at least 18 years old, with either a high school diploma or actively working toward an equivalent. Beyond that, it’s up to the city agency—some agencies require a college degree, and others look for a specific skillset, such as research.
But, as Miner said, “The agencies are all looking for people who are passionate about serving our City.”
“The Ethos of My Being”
The City Service Corps program plans on expanding its scope and size significantly in the coming months. Approximately 60 more members will join in March 2016 and 150 will join in September, for a total of almost 300 members within the first year of City Service Corps.
Even though City Service Corps is only a couple of months old—the program launched in November 2015—Miner says he can already see changes in the members. As they gain work experience, members develop more self-confidence.
“That's the first piece. It's really a skill development piece and a sense of self,” Miner said.
“And the second thing they're getting out of it is a deeper connection to the city of New York. For a program that wants to create and foster civic leadership as one of our benefits, that's really important.”
Before Abby Jordan applied to City Service Corps, she had already volunteered for Habitat for Humanity and American Red Cross.
“To live a life that promotes altruism, being able to know as a human that I can do something good, it’s the ethos of my being,” she said. “It’s who I am.”
The Youth Opportunity Fund is part of the Citi Foundation’s Pathways to Progress U.S. commitment—a three-year, $50 million investment to give 100,000 low-income youth in the United States the opportunity to develop the workplace skills and leadership experience necessary to compete in a 21st century economy.
To learn more about nonprofits working to place low-income young adults on a path to success, check out other Youth Opportunity Fund grantees.