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Coronavirus Update: Student Activist Group Out To Save NYC's Summer Youth Employment Program

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- A critical summer jobs program in New York City has been cut because of the coronavirus, but thousands of young people depending on the program aren't giving up without a fight.

While most students are looking forward to summer for fun, high school junior Sue Najm, of Marine Park, Brooklyn, is focused on survival and saving a summer program that provides career experience and financial support to tens of thousands of low-income students, including herself.

"Most kids are saying, 'How are we supposed to support our families this summer?' And that is the biggest thing for me, that kids are worried now that their parents are losing their jobs because their parents aren't essential workers," Najm told CBS2's Hazel Sanchez this week.

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Najm and fellow members of the student activist group Teens Take Charge NYC launched a petition to save the Summer Youth Employment Program, or SYEP. Thousands have already signed on.

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Citing COVID-19 safety concerns, the city dumped the nearly 60-year-old program, which would have provided minimum wage jobs to 75,000 students. It would have been junior Karleny Ramos' third summer with SYEP.

"I need that experience. I need to put something on my resume. I need to put something on my college application," Ramos said.

The Department of Youth and Community Development delivered the bad news to participating organizations in a letter, saying the coronavirus uncertainty "as we head into late spring and summer makes it difficult to insure that SYEP can be operated safely and efficiently."

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Nora Moran from the community advocacy group United Neighborhood Houses said the city's decision was abrupt.

"Whatever the reason is, it's certainly very frustrating that this decision was made with 24 hours notice. There wasn't a lot of input given from the community-based organizations who have run this program for many years," Moran said. "If there isn't that assistance from the city or from the state or federal government, they're going to figure out a way to make it work."


For now, it's a lost opportunity for high school sophomore LaToya Beecham and junior Stephanie Pacheco, who feel the city is contradicting itself.

"They kept mentioning how the cancellation of school would impact low-income students, minority students, students in temporary housing, but now that they're choosing to cut off funding for SYEP this summer, it's going to mostly affect those same students that they were claiming to be so concerned about," Pacheco said.

"They can find a way for us to do schools, but not a way to have us have a dependable income for ourselves," Beecham added.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and several council members are expressing support to save the program. They're asking the Department of Youth and Community Development to consider a modified remote learning program that would still provide a paycheck for students.

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