EASTCONN Where Learning Comes to Life

COVID-19 Couldn’t Stop the 2020 Summer Jobs Program

COVID-19 called a halt to many jobs for Connecticut’s young people last summer, but not for those who participated in an EASTCONN summer program. 

Through virtual classes, and a few in-person job sites, hundreds of qualified Connecticut youths, from Thompson to New London, took part in EASTCONN’s 2020 Summer Youth Employment Program, where they learned work-related skills intended to improve their future job prospects. 

Funded by the Eastern Connecticut Workforce Investment Board (EWIB), and implemented in partnership with Norwich Youth & Family Services and New London Youth Affairs, the program served 305 of the region’s 14-to-24-year-olds, who were paid minimum wage for up to 100 hours of work, most of it virtual, between July and August 2020. The Summer Youth program is offered annually, although its reach depends on
funding levels each year. 

“The Summer Youth Program provides our region’s youths with general, well-rounded, pre-employability skills, so they learn what employers require and gain a better understanding of themselves, their strengths and interests,” said EASTCONN’s Cyndi Wells, the program coordinator. “It gives them an opportunity to explore new ways to contribute to society through work, while also networking with potential employers.”

In order to participate, youths must reside in eastern Connecticut, and meet program eligibility requirements. Funding support is funneled to EWIB through the state Department of Labor, the Department of Children and Families (DCF), local foundations and the Connecticut Health and Educational Facilities Authority, Wells said. 

In a normal, non-pandemic year, Wells said Summer Youth participants would work in-person at paid internships, many of them outdoors, for a variety of businesses. Support services, such as work clothing, supplies and transportation assistance would also be provided to any youths in need.

But last summer, 295 of 305 participants spent most of their time in Google Classrooms, learning about résumé-writing, goal-setting, career interests and lifestyle budgeting. They also learned the importance of soft skills like punctuality, stress management, empathy, and more. Another 10 youths opted for a variety of hybrid internships in Windham and Norwich, among them, tutoring, gardening, food preparation and marketing. All participants learned financial literacy skills and followed strict health and safety protocols. 

“This year, for the online component, we provided wrap-around services like teaching participants how to use a computer and how to effectively use platforms like Google Classroom,” said EASTCONN’s Yamilez Perea-Gonzalez, a co-facilitator of the program. “And because we were primarily remote, we could redirect unused transportation funds to purchase Chromebooks to ensure that our participants had online access.”

Where needed, the program also provided case management to address youths’ essential needs like food insecurity and rent.   

“Every year, our goal with this program, whether in-person or virtual, is to help participants be successful by preparing them for that next stage, when they actually land their first, full-time job,” said Connie Sipos, a co-facilitator of the EASTCONN program. 

Pending a renewal of funding for 2021, EASTCONN’s youth jobs program will return this summer. For more information, please contact Cyndi Wells at cwells@eastconn.org