Twenty-five more low-income young people have jobs this summer, thanks to a partnership of three local charitable foundations in the Southeastern CT Funders Collaborative. Together, the Liberty Bank foundation, the People’s United Community Foundation, and the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut Foundation provided $24,500 to enable the Eastern Workforce Investment Board (EWIB) to hire additional youth for its Summer Youth Employment program.
The funders visited F.R.E.S.H. New London, where young workers were picking several varieties of peppers they had grown. F.R.E.S.H. is a nonprofit urban gardening program that teaches youth about organic farming and nutrition, while providing fresh, locally grown produce at low or no cost to people in inner-city neighborhoods. Despite the 90-degree heat, the teens were eager to show off their harvest and explain what they had learned about sustainable agriculture and the benefits of organic, locally grown foods. “I learned how bad for you the food at McDonald’s really is,” said one student (although he admitted he still eats there.)
For several of the students, this experience was their first job. When asked what they had learned about working, Nickeury Rodriguez replied, “Being responsible.” Fellow worker Jorge Medrano added, “Working as a team.” There was a strong spirit of camaraderie among the diverse group of teens, several of whom were still learning English.
“I don’t want my father to have to pay for my clothes. I can take care of that myself now.”
EWIB’s Summer Youth Employment program receives most of its funding from state government, but consistently has many more young applicants than the funds can support. This year, 398 of the 769 students who applied were able to work at 158 worksites all over eastern Connecticut. The New London program, which includes F.R.E.S.H., enrolled 140 students, 79% of whom qualified for free or reduced price school lunch, and 74% of whom were minorities.
Students work 20 hours a week for six weeks at minimum wage, earning about $900 for the summer. Several of the teens noted that they are using their hard-earned paychecks to buy school clothes for themselves. “I don’t want my father to have to pay for my clothes,” said Nickeury. “I can take care of that myself now.”
Since the SE CT Funders Collaborative began supporting EWIB’s Summer Youth Employment program in 2012, almost $179,000 has been donated to provide about 163 additional jobs for local youth. Formed in 2012, the Collaborative includes 12 area foundations and corporations who partner from time to time to provide collective funding for initiatives of common interest.