It is no surprise that summer in the City of Newark – like summer all across the country – is different this year. This summer, in addition to the protests around police brutality and systemic racism that have spread across the country, our community is dealing with the health and financial impacts of a global pandemic.

Against this backdrop, for the first time in three decades, the City of Newark’s Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) is faced with a challenge so great that, in order to remain viable and safe for the upcoming summer session, radical adjustments are needed. Due to social distancing requirements, many businesses that were slated to host SYEP internships are closed; in-person work is just not feasible. However, my administration knew that these summer jobs would be critical for young people to meet the economic and employment gaps that the pandemic has caused. Summer jobs are more than temporary work – they are a chance to earn a paycheck, explore a new career, enter the financial mainstream, and take steps towards a stronger financial future.

With support from the CFE Fund and the Citi Foundation, we worked to quickly pivot our summer jobs program to meet the needs of the young people in our community. In 2020, the City of Newark SYEP will serve 3,000 young people through a new "Learn and Earn" model. Youth will earn a weekly stipend for participating in a combination of college prep, financial literacy, and career development webinars led by local leaders; self-guided work readiness training modules powered by LRNG (such as workplace communication, personal branding, resume writing, social media etiquette); and project-based learning (including projects co-designed with employers and local organizations that meet long-term business needs).

One critical piece of our SYEP has been the financial education and banking access that we’ve been able to add into the program as part of our participation in the CFE Fund’s Summer Jobs Connect initiative. As our program moves to a remote model, the financial empowerment components are coming, too! The Young Money Managers program, where youth provide financial coaching and mentoring to other SYEP participants, will be available over video conferencing. Young Money Managers introduce their fellow participants to banking options, help them develop and budget for a savings goal, and track their progress together; last summer, nearly 2,000 young people set a savings pledge, and committed to saving almost $400,000 of their summer paychecks. Youth will also have access to MyPath, an online platform that promotes savings and provides resources like online budgeting tools and savings calculators; we have also added additional financial education components to the LNRG work readiness training. Finally, young people will be able to register for direct deposit online for their stipends, so they will quickly and safely receive these funds.

This summer has presented new and complicated challenges for the City of Newark, but throughout everything we’ve never lost sight of the importance of giving young people the tools to continue to learn and earn – to turn a summer job into the building blocks for a promising future.