Students presenting their final project for instructors and administrators


Think back to your first job.  Did you feel hopeless at times?  Were there ever problems that arose that you weren’t quite sure how to solve?  Did you wish that there could have been a program that would have better prepared you to join the workforce while also making meaningful connections and changes in the world?  Well look no further!  That program is called the Summer Youth Employment Program(SYEP) in New York City.  In previous years the SYEP was the largest youth employment program in the country, but this year it’s fate was uncertain. Due to COVID-19 we here at NYCID were unsure if the program would be able to come back and if it did what SYEP in the “new normal” would look like.  


After months of waiting we finally got our answer in May.  The SYEP would still be happening online, for five weeks, and with only a select number of organizations in NYC administering the program.  That is when we sprung into action.  Working diligently to make sure that everyone who wanted to be a part of the SYEP in the summer of 2020 would have a chance at the lottery.  This was a new experience for everyone, students and instructors alike got acclimated to the new way of conducting SYEP which brings us to where we are now.  


“The SYEP program is vital because it allows the youth to gain job opportunities, learn life skills, and be interactive in their community. The SYEP program this summer challenged how the participants will interact with not only each other but with their instructors. Adaptability and resilience were essential to making the program happen this summer.” Noted Instructor Kimani Lockhardt.



Kimani Lockhardt


To bring this year’s online SYEP to an end students participated in a Workplace Challenge.  The idea of the challenge was to see if students could come up with ideas that would help industries that have been struggling with changes that they had to make throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.  The three sectors chosen were non profits, restaurants, and specialized gyms.  These industries have been trying to figure out how to safely and properly serve their customers and participants.  Although they have been able to come up with some creative solutions themselves, specific organizations from these three industries are looking to NYC youth to see if they have some insights to offer.


Spoiler alert: they do.  Over the course of three weeks participants of the SYEP completed three webinars.  The first where the challenge of their specific industry was introduced and they had the chance to ask questions about the industry as a whole, the second where they had some time to think about the challenge and ask more specific, guided questions, and the third and final webinar where students presented their ideas to help businesses struggling to come up with solutions.  The first section was centered around non profits such as NYCID who have been forced to transition to online services throughout the pandemic.


In the first webinar Students learned about all facets of NYCID With a presentation by NYCID staff members Candace Gonzalez, Ivy Billotti, Michael De Vito Jr., Robyn Piper, and Jennifer Caravaglio.  As students logged on they were greeted by some sweet tunes and pleasant greetings from De Vito.  After everyone settled in to the webinar the presentation began.  De Vito started off by talking about NYCID’s values and mission.  


“Because we believe that when we help people communicate through their conflicts, when we help people be able to listen clearly and understand each other that we will have a more healthy and a more connected society” Said De Vito.



Michael DeVito Jr.


Next up was Gonzalez who took us back to 1970 for a deep dive into NYCID’s history.  Starting as an organization that helped youth with personal issues, and in 1982 was designated as the conflict dispute resolution center for Richmond County.  NYCID was growing and not only were they helping youth, but all people in Staten Island and finally got the name that stuck: New York Center for Interpersonal Development (there won’t be a quiz on this).  Over the decades NYCID continued to grow to facilitate after school programs, Probation programs,conflict management training, restorative justice programs and workforce initiatives.  Enter our challenge: If our organization thrives on face to face interactions how can we continue to grow and provide services in the age of COVID?


As an organization NYCID has taken their services completely remote but we want to still do our best to continue to improve the lives of all the people we work with.  Students had the opportunity to ask questions about the organization and that concluded the first webinar.  For the second webinar there was a brief review of the NYCID presentation and students were more focused on asking specific questions, ways to guide the presentations in the coming days.  NYCID staff gave suggestions on specific programs they could work on and different directions they could take their next level.  And that was it.  Now students had all that they needed to jump head first into their final project of the workplace challenge.  But let’s not get too ahead of ourselves.


The second group was assigned to work on a challenge for Pongo Power.  Leading the Webinars was Judy Jerome, Vice President of the gym gave a presentation and told about how Pongo Power is not just an ordinary gym.  They make custom packages that are tailored to the individual.  The goal of someone training with Pongo Power was to avoid injury and keep someone healthy at whatever level of their physical fitness journey they were at.  People can get different packages based on their needs.  Jerome explained that due to the pandemic they were forced to shut down both of their locations and have shifted their focus to virtual training sessions.  So the challenge was how could Pongo Power keep their doors open and keep on attracting new clients with digital offerings in the face of COVID-19?


Jerome was excited to participate in the workplace challenge and thought it was important because she “liked the aspect that it was a real world project for the students.  It wasn’t just a ‘what if’, here’s an actual company dealing with an actual thing with a real time impact on what happens in the next phase.  That’s really important getting toward a professional experience”


Students asked Jerome questions about what their trainers were certified in, if they had thought about opening locations in boroughs other than the gym’s home in Brooklyn, and what work out classes were like over Zoom .  Students had one more webinar before their final presentations to ask questions and really understand how the gym operates.



Judy Jerome


The third group was assigned to work on a plan for the restaurant industry and were led in webinars by John Mulvey former Staten Island Restaurant Association (SIRA) President, culinary teacher at Port Richmond High School, and SYEP instructor.  Mulvey led a presentation on what the SIRA does, his background, and how the restaurant industry has had to adapt to COVID-19.  The SIRA is an organization whose members are small business restaurant owners in Staten Island.  These are people who have been struggling to keep their doors open with the loss of indoor dining and the strong need to keep everyone safe.  Mulvey spoke about how restaurants with outdoor space such as a backyard can easily fit more tables for outdoor dining but restaurants in shared buildings have not been so lucky.  Some restaurants have transferred their menus online to avoid long disinfectant times and expensive paper costs.  


The challenge: how can restaurants continue to make money, pay their employees, and keep everyone safe with indoor dining banned in NYC indefinitely.  The students had a lot on their plate.  Working on this challenge was thought provoking and a necessary process for these students.


On the workplace challenge Mulvey commented “First of all, it was a different program this year.  I don’t think it was a bad one.  It focused a little more on the participants rather than a job.  They got to know something about themselves that was very important.  As they built up to the workplace challenge, they did that on their own.  I put them into groups and I challenged them to get the job done, and they did., they did it within the time frame that was required.  I thought that was pretty impressive.  These are kids that don’t even know each other, they met on their own and they did the work together and they came up with a final product, it was quite impressive.”



John Mulvey


Finally, the big day came and the participants presented their final project. Recommendations that students made to try and combat their specific challenges were first and foremost thinking about safety.  they wanted people to be able to do everything without concern of getting sick whether it be eating at a restaurant, working out, or receiving conflict mediation.  


Students’ presentations also focused a lot on technology.  Judy Jerome noticed “There was a lot in the social media area that I think I can definitely use as far as bringing ideas to my boss.  I loved the jingle idea for Snapchat or Tik Tok.  The group that went really specific in the ‘how to’ of getting a Youtube channel set up I thought was fantastic.  I legitimately am gonna bring that to my boss, maybe we should do this.  They mapped it out.  They said this is an idea but this is also how you would actually do it.  The interactive quiz on the website … I love the idea of someone having a very interactive experience when visiting our website.  Finding a place where we could encourage someone to engage back and forth and real them into booking a virtual appointment”


Another idea for Pongo Power was an app with a progress portal that would allow users to track their progress.  Once users download the app and create a profile they can input specific answers that would tell them what their fitness goals should be.  They also suggested to focus on both maintaining relationships with current customers while also attracting new ones.  Jerome definitely has a lot of ideas to pitch to her boss.


NYCID also got schooled by students with a ton of awesome recommendations!  To attract listeners to our new podcast students suggested Effective Expressions They suggested taking out ads on spotify or soundcloud where people are already listening to podcasts and also trying to get some press by getting our hosts on local radio stations.   As for social media they suggested we switch the content that we post on different social media platforms and try out live streaming on twitch to attract more youth viewers.  


With the loneliness of staying at home and doing more things virtually students also suggested an emphasis on mental health in NYCID programs.  One group suggested a mentoring program for people who wanted some guidance and were having some trouble dealing with their lives.  A program that could help young adults like SYEP that happened in the fall as well.  The students were dedicated to helping NYCID successfully and safely serve our community.


In the restaurant group, Students’ suggestions ranged from scannable QR code menus to someone at the door to provide hand sanitizer to patrons.  


Mulvey “was impressed that in 4 days they were able to put together what they did.  They did their research.  Couple nice ideas about ordering directly from the table and not having a waiter or waitress. Maybe that’s a better way of doing things, you lose the interaction but it keeps you safe.  It may be something we could really look into.  There were a couple really fantastic ideas that somebody might take a chance on.”


Students and instructors alike worked hard to make this happen and the results were phenomenal.  The youth of NYC really have so much to offer even if we don’t always see it.


The SYEP was different this year.  It’s no secret.  This year’s program has now come to an end and shown how people can come together and make something work no matter what the circumstances.  When leadership at NYCID got the word that SYEP was still happening this year they put together a program that put students in the real world dealing with real challenges and coming up with their own solutions.  In the end the instructors were extremely proud of how far their students had come in such a short amount of time.  The first virtual year of SYEP was a success and we cannot wait to see what next year will bring!