The majority weren’t old enough to vote, but more than two dozen of our youth spent this summer learning how to make their voices heard in the political process.
This was the 11th year of our Community Building Summer Internship Program. During the 10-week program, every Friday, the youth learn how to identify the causes that are closest to their hearts and their communities, how to tell powerful stories about those issues, and how to effect change through advocacy.
They also spend time Monday through Thursday working in local government offices, interacting with constituents through phone calls, emails, and in-person visits.
“This was my first job,” said Emily Argriro. “Before this, I didn’t know what local leaders did. But being in [New York Assembly Member] Edward Gibbs’ office showed me how much they help their constituents with important issues. I learned a bunch about community building and made a bunch of new friends.”
For many interns, like Emily, this experience was their first job. Some encountered early learning curves that come with working in an office, including the importance of punctuality and everyday performance.
And they had to do it all in the high-pressure world of local politics.
Our interns were placed at political offices throughout New York City, including: U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres; Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson; Manhattan Brough President Mark Levine; Assembly Members Michael Cusick, Manny De Los Santos, Inez Dickens, and Charles Fall; Council Members Shaun Abreu, Oswald Feliz, Kamillah Hanks, Rafael Salamanca Jr., and Althea Stevens; State Senators Cordell Cleare, Gustavo Rivera, and Luis Sepulveda; and Deputy Speaker Diana Ayala.
They learned about the impact that these local offices have on the lives of their neighbors and fellow New Yorkers. And they came away with the knowledge that they could be change-makers in their communities.
“You get benefits from being older, like being able to go out by yourself,” said Musayeroh Bah, who was assigned to Fall’s office. “But with that independence comes responsibility. Even if you can’t vote, you can help. And hopefully by the time you vote, you understand the issues better.”
As part of their program, the interns were tasked with taking on some of the biggest issues facing their communities – and our country. They chose broad and challenging topics like gun violence, police brutality, and sex trafficking. Through their research, they learned about the extent of the problems – and also about potential solutions.
They learned that many of those solutions can start at the local level of politics – and that they as young people are able to have a big impact.
They shared the results of their projects with members of the community, staff from political offices and Children’s Aid employees at a culminating event earlier this month in Upper Manhattan.
“We really learned about the value of youth advocacy,” said Zelena Victor, who worked in Gibson’s office. “We bring out a voice that isn’t often heard. We speak for others who don’t have a chance to be heard. That lesson applies to a lot of issues that we face in our communities.