The San Francisco YMCA is kicking off a new program this summer, Empowerment to Employment — E2E. The program aims to create inroads to sustainable employment for at-risk San Francisco youth, ages 18-24. Job opportunities will include positions in construction, nonprofit support, after school and social services support and hospitality.
The idea for this program began several years ago during a discussion between the Senior Executive Director, Evelyn Daskalakis, and Mark Bley, CEO of Dome Construction. Mark has been mentoring youth for more than 20 years and has remained in contact with one of the first boys he met through the YMCA mentoring program. Mark says, “he had a rough life,” but he thrived as a team member of Dome Construction. Mark recalls how the community at Dome Construction gave his mentee a solid support system when his family was touched by gang violence allowing him to avoid the dark path that many of his family members found themselves on after the violence. After years of mentoring, Mark recognized the need to help youth transition into adulthood. The lack of programs for youth making that transition was already on Evelyn’s mind and the two began to create the framework for what would eventually become E2E.
Officially, E2E began to take shape in February with the hiring of Jennifer Salerno as the program director. Jennifer, raised by a single parent with a 9th grade education, grew up in the Bay Area and says she likes to think of E2E as a “program for at-risk youth, designed by former at-risk youth.” The team also includes Employment Specialist, Kalen Cornelious. A number of local employers, including Dome Construction, Golden State Lumber, Excelsior Family Connections and Mixt have also signed up to support the program by offering job placements for participants of E2E.
The program will include one group of 15 youths this summer, with the cohort beginning on July 11. There are plans for two groups to participate next summer, with E2E growing into a year-round service in the next few years.
The program offers three forms of support to participants: comprehensive employment training, professional mentorship and job placement. After completing an interview process and being accepted into the program, participants complete 6 weeks of professional development training. This requires attendance to 2 training sessions per week lasting 2 hours. Training will focus on the development of soft skills, self-empowerment and how to maintain long-term employment. Once this training is complete participants will be given a $400 stipend.
After training is complete, participant’s head to work. During the interview process the interests and overall career goals of the youth are discussed. Placements will be based on those career goals. Each youth will be placed in a job for a minimum of six months, some positions last up to 10 months. They are expected to work 20-24 hours per week and will earn a minimum of $14 an hour.
During the first six weeks of employment, participants are required to attend weekly professional support meetings. The model for this program is support. The program aims to “create pathways to sustainable employment, teach the skills needed to succeed in the immediate placement and beyond,” says Jennifer. Trainings will help to develop soft skills, but basic necessities of employment, such as transportation, resume development and appropriate clothing, will be offered as well.
Mark, as CEO of Dome Construction is supporting the program through the first summer in order to “get this thing off the ground.” He believes that this program will offer participants “exposure to what it takes to become successful.” He is not only offering financial support to the program, he also has two summer positions for E2E participants. Jennifer and the team are working to secure grants, as well as additional corporate sponsorships in order to create a financially stable and self-supported program.
A majority of the youth that will be participating in the first cohort have already been through the interview process and are preparing for the start of the program. For the first season, recruits have come largely from San Francisco high schools and other CBO’s with a similar mission statement. Recruitment will expand to City College of San Francisco in the fall. Charles White, a 2017 graduate of Ida B Wells continuation school, is looking forward to participating. After taking part in after school programs sponsored by YMCA throughout much of his life, he hopes his time with E2E will be “a new learning experience, something I can take with me” while working towards his ultimate career goal of becoming a child therapist. As part of E2E, Charles will share his newly acquired skills as an employee of the San Francisco YMCA after school programs. After the summer Charles will head to San Francisco City College, with plans of transferring to New York or Los Angeles to finish his degree.
More information about the program can be found on the website at https://www.ymcasf.org/programs/empowerment-employment-e2e.