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When the pandemic brought New York City to a screeching halt in March, leaders at the Bridge Street Development Corporation in Bed-Stuy knew their work would only become more essential.
The nonprofit, which aims to build partnerships with local businesses, government and community members to increase economic opportunities, had just started the spring cohort of its Out-of-School Youth Internship Program weeks before the shutdown.
“[The pandemic] was becoming a crisis for a lot of our young people, who were facing depression, some of them were contributors to their households in terms of income. There were very few opportunities,” Senior Program Director Oma Holloway said.
She knew Bridge Street had to find a way to complete the internship program for the sake of the kids. The team decided to give their interns the option to work in-person or remote and, in addition, they found alternative ways to challenge the interns while many businesses were shut down. Some did census work over the phone, while others learned about graphic design and coding.
Despite the difficulties of the spring, the program, launched three years ago with funding from the Neighborhood Designated Area (NDA) Opportunity Youth Grant through the Department of Youth and Community Development, was a success. For the 16-24 year olds who were involved, “the opportunity to do something productive or to earn money was really like a lifeline for many of them,” Holloway said.
“It was a shot in the dark,” Majar Jones, 17, said. Jones, who originally heard of the opportunity on social media, recently completed his fourteen week internship at Crocus Cafe, a juice bar on Tompkins Ave. He said he developed many new skills, including food handling, inventory and customer service. “It unlocks a lot of opportunities because I learned so much from the job in such a little time,” he said.
For Mary Abdelmassih, the program helped create connections with her community that she plans to keep for a long time. After struggling with remote learning in the spring, Abdelmassih decided to take the semester off from college. She ended up securing an internship working in the offices at Bridge Street, before transitioning in November to work for Bed Stuy Gateway BID (Business Improvement District). “Had it not been for the program, I would’ve been at home being a couch potato,” she said.
And her experience working at two community nonprofits accomplished more than simply getting her out of the house. “It changed my perspective on my career outlook,” she said. Abdelmassih, who plans to become a lawyer, is now considering minoring in business. “I didn’t know that you could make a positive impact in that field.”
“It became an opportunity for small businesses who were struggling to have interns who were being paid through this program to work ten hours a week,” Holloway said.
At the end of the fourteen weeks, the goal is to either secure the interns full time employment or to get them enrolled in a similar program.
Jones said he has been working with Bridge Street on his next steps, hoping to either return to Crocus in January or use his new skills to find other employment.
While the job was an important experience, the other opportunities offered along the way were key. “Throughout the program we have workshops for resume writing, mock interviews, saving money — a lot of stuff you need in your life,” he said.
For Abdelmassih, her time with the Bed Stuy BID has paid off almost instantly, as they agreed to keep her on full time and work on a plan for employment once she returns to college.
This job security has allowed her to focus on coordinating events like their weekly “Winter Wonderland,” a pop-up market showcasing local businesses, gathering toy donations and giving kids the chance to take a picture with Santa.
“Being a part of what’s bringing the community back together during COVID-19 makes me feel like I’m making a change,” she said.
Bridge Street is now recruiting for the spring internship cohort kicking off in March.