Press Release

Op-Ed: Help Wanted: Jobs for Vulnerable Youth

August 24, 2015
By First Lady and Mayor's Fund Board Chair Chirlane McCray

Published in the August 23, 2015, Print Issue of Crain's New York Business

I was only 14, but my summer job as a YMCA swim instructor in Springfield, Mass., is still fresh in my mind. When I taught my guppies how to flutter kick, I made sure their little feet were making as many bubbles as possible.

That summer job, and all the ones that followed, helped lay the foundation for my working life. I learned the importance of being on time, treating people with respect and devoting myself to the task at hand.

Successful New Yorkers in every field have benefited from similar experiences. The long hours they spent working a cash register, counseling campers or filing papers taught them skills that can only be learned on the job.

The research backs this up. Early, meaningful exposure to career opportunities significantly improves the likelihood that teens will graduate from high school and earn more money in a good job. Here in New York City, summer jobs have also been found to lower the odds that a young adult will end up behind bars.

My husband, Mayor Bill de Blasio, and I recently launched the Center for Youth Employment, a campaign to connect 100,000 young New Yorkers to summer jobs, mentorships, and internships by 2020. This campaign is being led by the Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City, which I chair.

Our goal is to create a new youth workforce infrastructure—one that works for all our children, including those in homeless shelters or foster care. To break a cycle of poverty and neglect that likely began before they were born, these young people need high-quality jobs and internships.

That requires the government and private sector to work together on their behalf, and that's exactly what we're doing.

This summer, we set out to double the number of Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) jobs for youth in shelters or foster care. I'm happy to report we surpassed that goal, creating 2,073 summer jobs for the city's most vulnerable kids, up from 1,000 last year.

One of those jobs went to a 15-year-old from Harlem I'll call Sofia. Sofia's life hasn't been easy. She lives with her father, who is unemployed, and she recently spent a year living in a homeless shelter. But these hardships have strengthened her resolve to make the most of every opportunity, including her SYEP job at the Red Hook Pool.

Sofia's duties include taking out garbage, sweeping, watering plants and directing patrons to the locker rooms—which she can do in English and Spanish. She uses the money she earns to buy essentials like clothing, school supplies and toiletries.

At first glance, Sofia's work at the pool might not seem relevant to her long-term professional goals, which include becoming a neurosurgeon. But that's not how she sees it. Sofia is convinced—as am I—that she's learning skills that will prove useful throughout her career.

Now we must work together as a city to provide every single young person in foster care or shelters with a summer job opportunity. If your company is interested in helping us build a 21st-century workforce, call the Mayor's Fund at (212) 788-7794 or email You'll be making an investment that will pay off for your company—and your city—for years to come.

Chirlane McCray is the First Lady of New York City.