When Mayor Ras Baraka took office in 2014, he immediately called for an expansion of the city’s Summer Youth Employment Program.
There is a growing body of evidence that youth employment programs are a positive intervention that can reduce summer violence and incarceration and improve educational outcomes of participating youth. Just as important, they help to expose youth to career pathways early, allowing the city to integrate youth into an overall workforce development strategy. For Mayor Baraka, the call was personal — he participated in the program as a youth and remembers fondly the impact it had on his life.
With this call to action from Mayor Baraka and the support of committed philanthropic partners, the City of Newark turned its long-running Summer Youth Employment Program into a national model in two short years and summoned a whole community — businesses, universities, the non-profit sector, and philanthropy — to serve as collaborating partners.
It is an example of philanthropic investments in the public sector at their best — clearly defined goals with flexibility to address emerging needs, leveraged public dollars, grant funds that support both system building and yearly program support, and foundation leaders collaborating with each other, thereby leveraging their own voice. Some philanthropic partners even showed an openness to adapt and move slightly outside of their funding comfort zone to support the workforce initiative.
All of this was made possible because we had a small group of angel investors who helped us build a new summer youth employment system.
What did this look like? A group of local foundations, including the Victoria Foundation, Prudential Foundation, and Foundation for Newark’s Future, supported a fund that allowed the city to redesign the program to meet the 21st century needs of youth. Mentoring and coaching, banking and financial literacy, job readiness training, jobs matched to interest, and defined career pathways were all added to the program’s core model.
One of the program’s national angel investors and largest supporters is Cities for Financial Empowerment and their Summer Jobs Connect program. Summer Jobs Connect leverages the infrastructure and paycheck of Summer Youth Employment Programs to embed banking access and targeted financial education in municipal systems. The City of Newark joins other cities like New York City, Washington, DC, Los Angeles, Miami, and Chicago in participating in this learning community.
As the Newark philanthropic liaison, my role is to convene funding partners, connect foundations, non-profit organizations, and city government to form effective public-private partnerships, and leverage funding streams both public and private to support evidence-based programs in the city. Therefore, it was my pleasure to provide facilitation when Cities for Financial Empowerment chose Newark to host their latest Summer Jobs Connect convening to spotlight Newark.
For two days from March 6-8, about 35 experts in the Cities for Financial Empowerment network from around the country gathered in Newark to share best practices. Mayor Baraka provided the conference welcome. Newark’s work was featured, as was our city – with its vibrant downtown, the explosion of the arts scene, a strong and dedicated stakeholder community, and our diverse cultures.
Too often narratives are built about communities that are an over-simplification of the complexities faced when affecting lasting change.
I am here to say that this city is more primed for investment, philanthropic and otherwise, than ever before. I encourage everyone to take the time to visit our city, meet our leaders, and learn about what we have accomplished.
We have a visionary mayor whose policies for inclusive revitalization are ensuring that we welcome our new residents and businesses even as we lift up those who have lived in Newark their whole lives. We have a community that has embraced collaboration and collective action with campaigns on college attainment and graduation, the arts, and out of school time opportunities, among others. Graduation rates are up, crime is down, the community is involved in our education system in an unprecedented way as we return our school district to local control, and we boast some of the finest urban school models – district, magnet, charter, and private – in the country.
In short, we are honored that Cities for Financial Empowerment chose our city to spotlight. Their leadership and partnership have been invaluable to changing the life trajectories of hundreds of youth.
But we could have just as easily hosted a conference on how to create a city-wide college-going culture, or how businesses and universities can form partnerships with cities to advance their workforce, or how the arts can be a driver of neighborhood renewal.
It is all happening in Newark and it is all happening now.
Kevin Callaghan is the Newark Philanthropic Liaison, a nationally recognized initiative of the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers and the City of Newark. For more information on the impact and work of the Office of the Newark Philanthropic Liaison click here.