BronxWorks 2023 Summer Youth Employment Program

Summer youth participants help run BronxWorks Farm Stands from July to August.

In the New York City social services landscape, the end of summer is foretold by the graduating Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) cohorts, tens of thousands of the city’s youth now equipped with new work experiences and skills.

This summer, BronxWorks SYEP enrolled 1,347 youth participants, from ages 14 to 24, across three initiatives. The first initiative was school-based, where BronxWorks partnered with four Bronx high schools (Frederick Douglas Academy, Careers in Sports High School, Academy for Language and Technology, and Bronx Leadership Academy II) to recruit SYEP participants. The second initiative recruited participants specifically from Bronx River New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) residents, and the third initiative was the open lottery for public applicants. This summer, BronxWorks SYEP received over three thousand applications to the open lottery.

A community group works with SYEP participants at BronxWorks.

ShaQuanna Cody-McGrew, Program Director, started to oversee the department’s youth workforce programs last year. “We inherited a great blueprint and team from previous years,” said Shaquanna. “My experience and community partnerships from Jobs Plus allowed us to expand programming, particularly with recruitment for the special initiative group from the Bronx River Houses.” As a result, BronxWorks SYEP exceeded their NYCHA participant targets from last year. To manage the over 1,300 participants, the SYEP team added 25 seasonal staff, including Program Assistants, Site Monitors, and Activity Specialists.

Some of the BronxWorks Summer staff and older youth participants who assisted with project-based learning groups.

Student participants were divided into two groups. The younger youth, ages 14 to 15, were separated into project-based learning groups, supervised by activity specialists. The groups developed different projects and activities and worked with community partners, such as Family Cook Productions and Arcturus Community Endeavors, to tackle a range of topics, like food preparation, nutrition, technology training, and more. Groups also organized and took trips to locations relevant to their projects. For their project-based work for the summer, youth participants received a stipend.

SYEP participants work together on learning more about technology and its application in the working world.

The older youth, ages 16 to 24, were assigned to a worksite to gain valuable job experience. The SYEP team works hard year-round to develop relationships with community partners to secure worksite placements for the summer. Worksites include large retailers like Kid City, CVS, and Burlington Coat Factory; local businesses and organizations like ASPCA, Association for Energy Affordability, Kraus Management Inc., New York Urban League, Rosa’s at Park, Sankofa Haus; as well as many BronxWorks sites, including Children & Youth Summer Camp Programs, Farm Stands, Shelters, and operations. Older youth participants were paid for their work. SYEP Site Monitors checked in with each participant and worksite supervisor to ensure compliance with program standards, mitigate any potential issues, and provide feedback to facilitate growth for the participants.

Nasir, an SYEP intern from the BronxWorks Administrative Building, who learned about maintenance and building operations.

When asked why SYEP is such an important and celebrated annual program for New York City, ShaQuanna said, “Having been in workforce development since 2015, our department is always concerned about how prepared our participants are with job readiness skills. SYEP imparts those skills and experiences on youth at a very early age, and when they are adults looking for jobs, they already have an understanding of what it takes.”

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ShaQuanna Cody-McGrew

When it comes to youth workforce programming, you would be hard pressed to find a more experienced and understanding provider than ShaQuanna Cody-McGrew. ShaQuanna’s advantage comes not only from her many years providing direct services to vulnerable members of New York City communities, but also from her own lived experiences.  

I got my GED. I attended community college and went on to complete my Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology. My experience connects me to the participants in our programs.” 

ShaQuanna grew up in Brooklyn. After receiving her Bachelor’s Degree from Medgar Evers College, she started her career in social services at the Bowery Residents Committee. In 2010, ShaQuanna moved to the Bronx, and in 2015 she started at BronxWorks.  

I was looking for larger organizations to grow and develop professionally. I feel like when I came to BronxWorks, I found my home.” 

ShaQuanna started in the Young Adult Internship Program (YAIP) as a Case Manager. In 2017, she began her journey to leadership in the role of Senior Resource Coordinator for the inception of the Jobs Plus program. She was later promoted to Assistant Program Director, and finally as the Program Director in 2021. In October 2022, ShaQuanna became the Program Director of BronxWorks Youth Workforce Programs, which includes three adult literacy programs, the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP), and the corresponding Work, Learn, and Grow (WLG) program.  

To ShaQuanna, workforce programming is about shaping legacies for families. Just like how she was afforded opportunities to succeed through social programs, ShaQuanna is creating those same opportunities for her participants by motivating them to strive for greater heights while developing a mindset for community support. 

I feel like social services chose me. I saw how the work I did would affect the loves of others, and being a part of that became my drive and motivation. I was afforded opportunities because of agencies in my community, so being able to pay it forward is part of my life’s mission.” 

Outside of work, ShaQuanna is a devoted mother. She loves to spend time with her daughter, playing basketball, swimming, traveling, gaining new experiences and trying new restaurants.   

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Dylan Cahir

BronxWorks is proud of our staff who are dedicated to not only providing critical services to our clients and the communities of the Bronx, but also to helping ensure that our diverse identities and backgrounds are represented throughout the organization. In talking to staff, we are always fascinated by their stories, how they each found their way to BronxWorks, and how so many of them find a kindred purpose in the mission of BronxWorks. Dylan’s story exemplifies why these aspects of our staff are so important.

Dylan grew up in Rhode Island. He attended Hofstra University, earning his Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science, Global Studies, and Italian. After graduating in 2015, Dylan joined AmeriCorps for a year. In 2016, Dylan joined the Peace Corps and spent the following two years teaching English in Morocco. He joined BronxWorks in February 2020 as a Housing Coordinator for the Emergency Department Outreach Team (EDOT) at Lincoln Hospital. The program stationed BronxWorks staff within the emergency departments of partner hospitals to engage homeless individuals and patients in need of housing resources.

In March 2020 after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lincoln Hospital temporarily suspended the EDOT program, restricting access to the hospital for all non-essential programs and services. Dylan and the other team members moved to the Pyramid Safe Haven as stand-in Case Managers for three months until Lincoln Hospital allowed the EDOT program to resume. As one of the original team members, Dylan was pivotal in helping hospital staff and patients better understand the resources that the EDOT program and BronxWorks could provide to the homeless population at Lincoln Hospital.

It was a lot of outreach, interjecting myself into conversations, explaining the program to staff, and eventually people would start to remember, oh yeah there’s that guy from BronxWorks to help with the homeless patients.”

In June 2021, Dylan moved into a different role as the Program Developer for the BronxWorks Supportive Housing and Care Coordination Department. He also enrolled at Hunter College for his Master’s Degree in Social Work. In June 2022 Dylan started his social work internship as a Case Manager at the BronxWorks Park Haven Supportive Housing Program. He continues to work as a Program Developer for the Department, and is expecting to graduate with his MSW in August.

Since joining BronxWorks, Dylan has been a member of the agency-wide LGBTQ+ Committee, helping the staff-led group create a space within the organization for staff to safely discuss LGBTQ+ issues and encourage each other to share experiences.

It’s a way to feel more connected to my colleagues who share a part of my identity. BronxWorks is such a large organization, it can feel sometimes that stuff can get lost in the shuffle, but with the Committee, we know there is a mechanism in place to make sure that the LGBTQ community is represented.”

At the moment, Dylan’s schedule is packed between his job, his social work internship, and working toward completing his MSW. He’s looking forward to having time once he graduates to explore new hobbies. He loves to play volleyball recreationally, and is always trying to learn a new language. Dylan shared that he can speak some degree of Arabic, Italian, Spanish, French, German, and Swedish.

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Marisol Rosa-Saltares

For twenty years, early in her life Marisol lived in a building on St. Ann’s Boulevard when the building was a part of the New York City Housing Authority. Years later, Marisol finds that her story has come full circle, as the Assistant Department Director for Access to Benefits and Homelessness Prevention Programs at BronxWorks, the organization now providing transformative services in that same building on St. Ann’s.

Marisol was born in Puerto Rico, came with her family to the Bronx when she was four years old, and has been living in the Bronx ever since. She attended the Theodore Roosevelt High School, earned her Associate’s Degree from the Bronx Community College, her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from Lehman College, and her Master’s in Public Administration from the Metropolitan College of New York.

As I started working at BronxWorks, I saw the huge need for walk-in services and assistance. I saw seniors who had difficulty completing paperwork or re-certifications to stay in their own apartments. It inspired me to continue on in this field.”

Marisol started working at BronxWorks in 1998 as a Family Childcare Specialist. Her job at that time was to enroll family childcare providers into a program to ensure that they were adequately resourced, trained, and had the necessary licenses and support to provide high-quality childcare to their communities. Shortly after joining the program, Marisol was promoted to Program Coordinator to build a cohesive network of family childcare providers. She would conduct home visits to the childcare providers, approve their home childcare setup, ensure they had the proper resources, and help make referrals to members of the network.

After two years, Marisol was promoted to Program Director of the Avenue St. John and Townsend Walk-in Offices, and a few years after that, she was again promoted to the Assistant Department Director overseeing all four of the walk-in and referral offices at the time. Since then, Marisol has helped oversee the growth of the department for over twenty years.

As BronxWorks has grown and added so many different programs, the department has grown with it. Because BronxWorks is so broad and offers so many services, we are able to make a lot of referrals within the agency, and getting people assistance quickly and efficiently.”

Outside of work, Marisol loves to spend time with her family and watch movies with her husband and her daughter. She and her eight sisters and five brothers love to get together at the park and spend holidays together as a family.

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Gianna Dell’Olio

Gianna Dell'olio

If you’ve ever joined a meeting with Gianna just a few minutes early, you’ll soon find that you know a thing or two about Gianna’s life that you didn’t know before. Over time, the more minutes you get to spend talking with Gianna, the more you’ll come to know about who she is, about her family, and about her commitment to her hometown, The Bronx. Gianna is that type of person you hear so much about, but you rarely encounter in genuine form – the type of person who wears their heart on their sleeve. In her line of work as Director of Advancement and Communications, that is a quality of the utmost significance. With everything that Gianna shares comes a generous dose of sincerity and friendship.

Gianna was born and raised in the West Farms/Morris Park section of the Bronx. She lived in the Bronx until her early 30s. Gianna remembers growing up in a neighborhood that was incredibly diverse with families from different backgrounds and cultures.

I remember it was the quintessential Bronx, tightknit neighborhood where everybody knew everybody.”

After graduating high school, Gianna attended St. John’s University, graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications. She worked for many years in sales, marketing and advertising, before making a career change to Development. When the opportunity came in 2015, she joined BronxWorks as the Director of Communications and Advancement. Leading a team of fundraisers and communications professionals, Gianna oversees all of the public relations, marketing, and promotional operations for the entire organization. Every year, she organizes annual fundraisers, including a formal gala, the #TeamBronxWorks NYC Marathon runners, Giving Tuesday, Year End Appeal, and so much more.

I see the other departments as internal clients. We support their work, we amplify their work, we help get the message out about the incredible need and the incredible accomplishments.”

In all things, Gianna is singularly focused on advancing the impact of BronxWorks programs. “I wanted the mission-driven work,” she says, “In the department, Ken Small and his team support the public funding side and we support the individual, corporation, and communications side.”

Outside of work, Gianna is all about her family. She is a mother of two, a 14-year-old daughter who has a passion for performance art, and an 11-year-old son, who has a significant following on his YouTube channel. Whenever she has time, Gianna loves to camp with her family, work on home improvement projects, and thrift.

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The BronxWorks February 2023 Newsletter

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BronxWorks Joined by Volunteers for the 2023 New York City HOPE Count

Every year, the Homeless Outreach Population Estimate (HOPE) takes place at the end of January to estimate the number of unsheltered individuals in New York City. For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic, HOPE 2023 invited volunteers to once again help canvass areas across the city for individuals who are experiencing street homelessness.

Prior to the pandemic, HOPE volunteers were essential to completing the surveying of area maps throughout each of boroughs during the night of the count. To protect volunteers and limit the spread of COVID-19, the past two previous HOPE Counts were coordinated exclusively by borough homeless outreach providers. In our case, BronxWorks Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) was solely responsible for surveying all the area maps for the Bronx during those HOPE Counts, conducting the counts over three nights in 2022 and two nights 2021 to accommodate for the reduced number of counters.

Planning for this year’s HOPE Count started in October 2022. BronxWorks and other homeless service providers across the city met with the New York City Department of Social Services Office of Research and Policy Innovation to coordinate the city-wide survey. For the first time, the 2023 HOPE Count utilized a hybrid model of both traditional volunteers and homeless outreach teams. In previous HOPE Counts before the pandemic, the Bronx had five sites hosting HOPE volunteers while BronxWorks Homeless Outreach Team helped support the volunteer operations. This year, the City re-opened two volunteer sites in the Bronx at Hostos Community College and Lehman College. Volunteers from these two sites covered surveys for many of the area maps in the South and Northwest Bronx, while BronxWorks Homeless Outreach Team and staff volunteers covered surveys for the remaining 130 area maps throughout the Bronx.

Juan Rivera, Assistant Department Director of Adult Homeless Services, helped oversee the operation in the Bronx. He was joined by Homeless Outreach Team members, including Issa Asiedo, Homeless Outreach Team Outreach Coordinator, and Allyce Morrissey, Homeless Outreach Team Assistant Program Director. As always, staff from different BronxWorks departments and programs volunteered to join members of the Homeless Outreach Team. A total of 46 BronxWorks staff formed 22 teams utilizing 15 agency vehicles to canvas the 130 Bronx area maps. With the hybrid model of volunteers and homeless outreach teams, this year’s HOPE Count was once again completed in one night, from 11pm until 3am, allowing our teams to capture a more accurate representation of the homeless population on the street at a given time.

Juan is a veteran of the HOPE Count since 2008. Issa has gone on over 15 HOPE Counts, and Allyce is already on her third. Many other BronxWorks volunteers have notched multiple HOPE Counts in their careers, but others, like Aaron Cipollina, our Digital and Content Manager, joined for the first time. We spoke with the four of them to explain why the HOPE Count is so important.

Juan: The goal is to hopefully capture the work we are doing. We plan for the HOPE Count to be on one of the coldest nights of the year so we can get a sense of who is out on the street and who is not. It’s also important from the public perspective for the community to get involved and volunteer. It gives people one night of understanding what people are going through on the street.

Issa: I always look at it as a reflection of the work we are doing and the resources that we have over the years. It’s important for us to go out and see for ourselves how the situation has changed compared to previous years and to personally reflect on this work.

Allyce: The results of the HOPE Count help the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to allocate funding to services, so it is important for us to be as thorough and accurate as possible. It’s also important for the conversations we have between volunteers and people on the street, conversations that help us see why some people don’t want to go into shelters.

Aaron: I wanted to capture images of the people who are working and volunteering on that night. It’s a part that a lot of people don’t get to see, that Homeless Outreach really is working at all hours. And for me, working in Development and not in direct services, it was a rewarding experience to join people like Issa who have been doing this for so long and getting their perspective.

Now with the HOPE Count complete, the raw data from the night will be used to extrapolate official results that are expected later in April or May.

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Marina Weiss

In much the same way that the people who come to work for BronxWorks select for themselves the higher needs of purpose and mission, young people choose to join the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC). Jesuit Volunteers commit a year to provide services and live in local communities, followed often by a lifetime dedicated to building a more just and equitable world. For many years, BronxWorks has shared a partnership with JVC that has brought some of the most dedicated, long-standing, and mission-driven staff members to the benefit of our programs and participants.

Like her predecessors, Marina Weiss started at BronxWorks as a JV, and like many of them, her year in the Corps was just the beginning. Marina grew up in California, moving to Washington DC to attend Georgetown University as an undergrad. She majored in Global Health and Urban Studies and graduated with her Bachelor’s Degree in 2018. Right out of college, Marina joined JVC who sponsored her employment at BronxWorks as well as her move to New York City. During her first year, she lived in the JVC house in Harlem with eight other volunteers.

At BronxWorks, she got her start as a Program Specialist with the Community Health Programs, where she helped organize programming, like Teen Battle Chef, community gardens, food justice classes with our Cornerstone participants, and of course, the yearly farm stands. In 2019, after completing her year as a Jesuit Volunteer, Marina stayed at BronxWorks to join the newly-opened Cooper Gardens Supportive Housing Program as a Case Manager. At Cooper Gardens, Marina helped individuals and families move from the shelter system into permanent housing and provided them with the resources and support they may need to remain stably-housed. In 2021, Marina would take her experience from Cooper Gardens to another brand new supportive housing program as one of the first three staff members at Park Haven.

Apartment viewings are one of my favorite parts of the job – being there for people’s first viewing, seeing how they can envision a future for themselves and their families in their permanent home.”

Now, Marina is the Program Coordinator at Park Haven. While no longer a Case Manager, Marina continues to carry a caseload of 4 adults and 2 families. She focuses more on administrative and programmatic functions, like collecting data and reporting on impact to funders; organizing onsite activities and events, holidays and celebrations, knitting, group work, peer led meetings; running the medication monitoring program, training staff in medication monitoring; collaborating with a team of 7 staff to support over 50 adults and families with children. It goes on.

I love that the job is building a community with people. The people we work with have all experienced homelessness – that is the only thing they share in common – but in every other way, they come from different backgrounds. I learn a lot from my coworkers, but also from the clients. We all learn a lot from each other.”

For the second time in New York City, Marina has volunteered for the HOPE Count, on top of volunteering three times for the HOPE Count in Washington DC. She thinks it is important that the data from the HOPE Count help us best determine what resources are needed to support the people living on the street. Also this year, Marina will be riding for a second time in support of BronxWorks in the TD Bank Five Boro Bike Tour in May. She is also in her fourth semester toward her Master’s Degree in Social Work from Columbia University. Outside of work, Marina is learning to knit. She spends a lot of time with friends and her cats, Zora and Neale. And she bikes everywhere, including to and from work, and on the weekends for exercise.

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Ailsha Sepulveda

BronxWorks Community Health Programs are leading some interesting new initiatives, and Ailsha Sepulveda, Program Coordinator for CHP, is at the heart of many of them. From infant mortality reduction, to Teen Battle Chef, to intergenerational programming, participatory budgeting, leading focus groups, and more, Ailsha supports many of the ways BronxWorks is working to
improve health outcomes in our communities.

The most important thing is to create a safe environment through our very first interactions and let our participants share their stories.”

Ailsha was born and raised in the Bronx. She attended the Bronx Dance Academy for middle school and the Bronx Theater High School. Ailsha earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Forensic Psychology with a minor in Anthropology from John Jay College. She also earned her Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice, with a dual specialization in crime and deviance and policing administration, from John Jay.

Ailsha joined BronxWorks in 2018 as a Case Manager in an eviction prevention program, and in 2019 she joined the Community Health Programs. As the Program Coordinator for CHP, Ailsha has her hand in almost everything the team is doing. As a part of the Infant Mortality Reduction Initiative, Ailsha helps to create and facilitate the curriculum of infant and maternal health workshops. She also leads our Intergenerational Programming that brings together our youth participants and seniors from our older adult centers for shared learning and activities. She helps organize Teen Battle Chef for students in our afterschool and summer programs to learn culinary skills, how to utilize the food in their pantry, explore different cuisines, create healthier recipes, and compete in cooking competitions against their peers.

This year, as BronxWorks opened new programming on Saturdays at our Carolyn McLaughlin Community Center, Ailsha was integral in facilitating early focus groups to determine the most needed resources and curriculum. Additionally, this year BronxWorks became a borough partner in the first ever city-wide Participatory Budgeting process. Ailsha has been our community lead and point of contact through the first two phases of the process, responsible for community outreach and engagement, facilitating conversations and idea generation, and working with other partners to vet and develop ideas, and eventually place them onto a public ballot for New York City residents to decide on how to utilize public funding.

Whenever I am speaking with members of our community, I always keep in mind that we are all unique in our own way, and that comes through in how people present themselves and in how we communicate.”

In her work with the community, Ailsha draws heavily on her psychology coursework from her undergraduate and Master’s degrees. She uses techniques that help her better engage with members of the community and effectively convey valuable information to participants of all ages.

Outside of work, Ailsha enjoys going to the gym and hanging out with family. She is a life-long dancer. She hopes to do more traveling and creating new memories.

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Saturday Programming at the Carolyn McLaughlin Community Center

In our first year of the program, we are offering four twelve-week cycles, one cycle per season. The first cycle kicked-off in the Fall of 2022. The second cycle will run through the Winter, ending in February 2023, followed by a Spring cycle and a Summer cycle this year. Participants can enroll at the start of each cycle and continue through as many cycles as they wish or need.

Focus Groups

As a part of our preparation to open the Saturday Programming, BronxWorks engaged members of our communities in a series of focus groups to help determine the most requested needs from prospective participants. Throughout the Fall, BronxWorks Community Health Staff implemented five focus groups engaging adults with children. Questions were asked in both English and Spanish and focused on the groups’ immediate needs as well as their self-care habits and their goals. Based on the results from these focus groups, we confirmed the key areas for the Saturday curriculum to be Adult Education, GED preparation and support, ESOL, employment assistance, maternal self-care and infant health, and childcare services.

Adult Education

Adult Education classes are provided by our Workforce Development Department, which has a long history of helping adult learners achieve the necessary literacy skills to attain their GED. Adult Education Instructors teach reading and writing, mathematics, social studies, and science to each cohort. Students engage with the coursework and in discussions with one another during classes. The program also teaches effective strategies for mastering an academic curriculum that will prepare participants to earn their GED. Classes are offered between 9:30am until 1:00pm during each Saturday session, with additional tutoring and professional development workshops offered from 1:30pm to 2:30pm. During these optional workshops, participants can learn skills such as preparing a resume or cover letter to help them seek employment or apply for additional education opportunities.

Maternal Self-care and Infant Health

Expanding on the BronxWorks Maternal and Infant Health Program, Saturday Maternal Self-Care and Infant Health curriculum includes Nutrition 101, MyPlate: Basic Dietary Guidelines, diabetes education, cooking classes, recreational activities, as well as positive body image, stress management, safe sleep, and breastfeeding workshops. The goal of the overall program is to increase health equity and education for women and mothers to improve birth outcomes in the Bronx, and the expansion to Saturday encourages working mothers to participate with these important topics and resources.

“Our hope is that through a combination of nutrition education, wellness, relaxation, and self-care activities, mothers will be empowered to prioritize their own health, increase their confidence, decrease their stress, and model healthy behaviors for their families.” – Rachel Gill, Program Director, Community Health Programs.

Childcare Services

The final key component of the Saturday Programming is the availability of on-site childcare services. BronxWorks Childcare Associates are available to work with children from 6 months of age up to 12 years. Our childcare services go beyond simply entertaining the children, incorporating age-appropriate activities and mirroring some lessons offered to mothers through the Maternal Self-Care services. The children are split into three groups according to their age. Activities such as yoga, nutrition education, and stress management education will be offered in an accessible manner for the targeted age groups, allowing parents and children to bond over similar activities and increases the likelihood that self-care activities become a part of these families’ daily routines.

“We wanted to reach participants who would benefit from a highly-curated weekend curriculum. We wanted to reach adult learners, parents, and mothers with young children,” says Eileen Torres, Executive Director of BronxWorks. “The provision of childcare during our Saturday sessions is essential to remove a common barrier to self-improvement for many parents, and allows our participants to thrive within this learning environment.”

Participants and staff alike have been enjoying the new Saturday Programming. As we approach the end of the second cycle, we continue to receive feedback from participants on how we can expand the weekend services to include even more recreational activities, guest speakers, and more.

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