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Fifteen year-old O’sheonia Carter lives on the Southside of Syracuse with her mother and extended family. Until recently, she hadn’t thought much about her options for a future career.

O’sheonia’s story is a common one. Often, teens growing up in Syracuse’s impoverished neighborhoods are living in the moment, surrounded by violence and struggling to handle life’s day-to-day challenges.

“Our city’s teens need support and guidance to explore vocational opportunities, set career goals and build essential skills for obtaining employment,” said Derrick Dorsey, executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Syracuse (BGCS). “Achieving workforce success is key to pulling themselves out of poverty.” 

BGCS is doing its part to make that happen by offering a new Career Prep at the Clubs program. Career Prep provides at-risk youth ages 15 to 19 with skill building exercises, career exploration, entrepreneurial and community service experience, job shadowing and coaching. The program’s curriculum is designed to help youth discover the various career opportunities available to choose from, tap into their talents to uncover what path they would like to take and guide them to the resources they need to succeed on that path. 

During the course of the program, the teens learn how to build a resumé, present themselves in job interviews, speak publically, find and apply to jobs and use their individual talents to perform well over the course of their careers. A Community Foundation grant helped launch Career Prep by providing the funds to hire and train specialists who direct the program at Boys & Girls Clubs locations throughout the city.

As they enter the program, teens are interviewed and asked to set personal goals for success. Program coordinators then perform monthly assessment follow-ups, monitor report cards and ensure the teens are making progress toward achieving both their academic and career goals. 

After her assessment, O’sheonia determined that she would like to pursue a career in the nursing field. To help her get started, BGCS is connecting her to volunteer opportunities to prepare her for nursing training after high school graduation. 

“We try to show our students that there is so much out there,” said Diamond Marie Breland, enrichment program coordinator at BGCS. “Many of our teens think, ‘I’m not going to get out of poverty’ but Career Prep is here to say, ‘yes, you can.’ It means so much to the kids to know that they have a chance, an equal fair chance like anyone else.”
 
Greater Syracuse HOPE Initiative

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You can find great stories of our vital community organizations, such as the Boys & Girls Clubs of Syracuse highlighted here, assisting those pursuing self-sufficiency. But there is still much to be done as poverty and segregation is a reality of daily life for many in Syracuse. 

According to a recent study conducted by Professor Paul A. Jargowsky at Rutgers University, Syracuse has the highest rates of concentrated poverty for African American and Hispanic populations among the 100 largest cities in the nation. The statistics point to a startling narrative: poor neighborhoods are getting poorer and concentrations of poverty along racial lines are getting worse, making the realization of the American dream for many to be simply that — a dream. 

The residents of our community are taking these findings as a call to action. This year, the Community Foundation joined an emerging group of neighborhood and community leaders to help form the Greater Syracuse HOPE (Health, Opportunity, Prosperity and Empowerment) Initiative. HOPE is a unique collaboration between neighborhood residents, leaders, funders and government officials striving to address critical issues in our communityincluding inadequate and unsafe housing, lack of job opportunities, career pathways and subsequent high unemployment, low educational attainment and underperforming schools, poor health, neighborhood violence, crime and resulting trauma. 

The Community Foundation is committed to addressing our region’s critical issues and continuing to support vital programs that are breaking the cycle of poverty. Welook forward to supporting the HOPE Initiative and other community-led programs that seek to reduce the incidents and ramifications of poverty in our city’s neighborhoods.