SE Queens group aids youth

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During these tough economic times, some young adults need an extra push to make their goals a reality, according to the administrators of the Southern Queens Park Association’s Young Adult Internship Program.

The nonprofit initiative, which provides discouraged youth with job training and paid internships, graduated its latest class of students Friday at Roy Wilkins Park.

Suzanne Jones, director of YAIP, said the 50 young men and women who participated in this session improved not only their job skills but also their self-confidence.

“Many have started going to college for the first time or are in job training sites,” she said.

The program, now in its third year, is funded by the city Department of Youth and Community Development, as well as other private donations from companies such as TD Bank. The YAIP 23-week session is divided into three phases.

The first is a three-week training session for the students, who range from ages 16 to 24 and have either had trouble staying in school or not finding a job, that takes place at Roy Wilkins Park. The YAIP members are taught various skills, including résumé writing, job training and computer techniques.

“This is where we do the soft skills,” Jones said.

For the next nine-weeks, the students participate in paid internships at various companies and organizations across southeast Queens, including Jamaica Hospital, the Queens Sickle Cell Advocacy Network and Rainbow clothing stores. In addition to gaining experience, some students said working the internship helped them to refocus their lives.

Rychelle McKenzie, 19, who worked at a music studio called Dream City, said she was able to start doing art again after years of putting it on hold.

“My supervisor was also an artist and he got me back on track,” said the teen, who will soon start classes at Kingsborough Community College in Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn.

Supervisors at the companies and organizations were also grateful to have the YAIP members on their staff. Valerie Dickson, who runs the Alpha Fundamental Pre-school, said the two interns who worked for her were very professional and hands-on.

“They assisted teachers, students and did office duties,” she said.

The third phase of the program occurs after graduation. YAIP offers nine months of follow-up for the students who need help finding what to do next. Roger Scotland, president of the Southeast Queens Parks Association, which runs the program, said he and his fellow administrators know the economy is weak and even with the best training no one can guarantee an immediate job.

“We all know that the teenage years can be trying,” he said.

Scotland added that the program has grown tremendously over the years and welcomes more sponsors and businesses that would take the students under their wing. The experience would be advantageous for both the young adults and the organizations, according to the president.

“While they may have not been constructive before, now they keep coming back [to their job] every week,” he said.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4546.

Updated 6:05 pm, October 10, 2011
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