For the second year in a row, elderly Harlem residents will have an opportunity to spend their summers working for local nonprofits thanks to a partnership between the West Harlem Development Corporation and ReServe, a staffing organization for nonprofits.
This year, WHDC will give $219,000 to ReServe's Summer Seniors Employment Program, providing 100 seniors over the age of 55 with 10-week work placements throughout the city. The seniors will be paid $10 per hour. Last year's program received $140,000 from the WHDC to provide 50 jobs.
On Tuesday afternoon, nearly 50 seniors gathered in the Jackie Robinson Senior Center on Amsterdam Avenue and LaSalle Street to hear about the program, which will be open to residents of Manhattan's Community District 9. The district includes West Harlem, Manhattanville, Morningside Heights, and Hamilton Heights—but not areas east of Saint Nicholas Avenue.
“The Summer Seniors Employment Program helps a demographic that has a hard time finding jobs to afford food, medicine, and spending money,” WHDC Executive Director Kofi Boateng said.
WHDC receives its funding from Columbia's $76 million Community Benefits Agreement the University signed in 2009 after announcing its Manhattanville expansion.
Ida Johnson, one of the 2013 participants, said the program was useful because there are so few jobs available for senior citizens.
“I didn't know I could work again,” Johnson said. “It was a great experience.”
Paralee Brooks, another one of last year's participants, said her work at a culinary school downtown was rewarding.
“I updated their recipes, I interacted with other program heads, I did attendance, I did spreadsheets of their inventory, and I interacted with their students,” Brooks said. “I did so much. It's amazing. The 10 weeks went so fast.”
But some seniors at Tuesday's meeting said they felt the program was not large enough, especially since it excludes residents living east of Saint Nicholas Avenue, which falls into Community District 10.
“I think it's a good idea,” District 10 resident Seydou Garcia said. “But there are a lot more than 100 seniors in need of jobs.”
As a District 10 resident, Garcia is ineligible for the program, a fact that he said he didn't know until Tuesday's information session.
Others raised concerns about the short length of the placements, amounting to only 120 hours of work time.
“The program seems really nice,” Ginger Peterson said. “But it only lasts 10 weeks, so I don't know how much of a long-term impact it will make.”
ReServe Senior Program Officer Noelle Minter said that although the summer program is short, it will help seniors to build their professional networks.
“Placements will allow participants to develop skills, experiences, and references that will help them in the future,” Minter said.
Marie St. Ange, a prospective participant, also said that even 120 hours of work will make a difference.
“I don't have enough funds coming in,” St. Ange said. “Ten dollars an hour may seem nominal, but this is the most viable option for many of us here.”
Boateng said that the program ultimately is about improving the quality of life for the area's residents.
“Many seniors also learn new skills, and their employers are happy to have extra staff at no cost to them,” Boateng said. “We want to start people on a path towards a better life.”
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