On The Street

Helping At-Risk Ossining Kids Find a Job and Direction in Their Lives

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By Michael Gold

There are many at-risk teens in the Village of Ossining, Chima Monday said, and he’s trying hard to help them. A big part of his toolkit is to get these kids jobs.

Monday, the director of the Ossining Youth Bureau (OYB) that was founded in 2020, focuses on placing 16-year-olds in jobs in Ossining, in nursing homes, construction offices, nonprofits, the local courthouse, the village clerk’s office, summer camps and with Hit a Home Run Against Drugs, an organization that works to prevent substance abuse.

The jobs include answering the office phone, writing e-mails, filing and scanning documents into databases.

The OYB also offers a job readiness training program for 14- and 15-year-olds over the summer, teaching them how to fill out a job application, create a resume, interview with a prospective employer and organize their schedules to accommodate a job.

Monday, who arrived last year from the Westchester/Putnam Workforce Development Board supervising youth programs, started the Ossining employment and job training programs after he started in the village.

“Our focus is employment, training and life skills,” he said.

Monday describes at-risk teenagers as kids who may not have graduated high school or did and don’t know what to do with their lives. They may have a single parent.

“The kids have no direction. They need some guidance,” Monday said, explaining, “COVID played a role in the lack of motivation” of some youngsters, affecting their mental health. “They come from tough situations; they don’t know where their next meal is going to come from. Housing is very bad. We have homeless kids.”

More than half of the village’s population is now Latino, Monday said.

“We have lots of people who are asylum seekers from South America,” he explained.

There are also a number of undocumented persons. The children are “afraid of their parents being deported,” said Jamar Brown, OYB program coordinator. “They live in constant fear.”

They are understandably suffering from anxiety and depression.

“We have kids who come in (to the bureau) and say they’re hungry,” said Jeffrey Santos, OYB’s youth advocate. “We give them a list of organizations to help feed them.”

Some of the kids have issues with their stepparents, or problems with substance abuse. The bureau attempts to help them get a job and stay focused in school.

The primary substance abuse problems seem to involve prescription medication or cannabis, Santos explained.

“Marijuana interferes with their education,” Santos said. “We create drug awareness for youth. They need somebody they can trust and can speak to.”

“We had a kid, 17 years old, who went to rehab upstate for four months and didn’t finish school. We said, ‘We’re going to get you a job,’” Monday explained. “A job helps a lot. It gives them an outlet to feel like they’re doing something. It does motivate.”

To incentivize the kids, the youth bureau offers participants a $50 gift card to attend summer job training, leadership and life skills programs.

During the four-week OYB summer leadership program, run in cooperation with Ossining High School’s media room, Brown teaches the participants life skills, personal communications, planning, personal organization and how to use both traditional and phone cameras. Using the cameras, the 35 participants interviewed people in the community and created a video and podcast featuring varied community topics.

The theory behind teaching these skills is that it’s relevant to their lives.

“A lot of teens do social media,” explained Santos. “The idea is to create in their minds what kind of career they want, to give them exposure of how to learn new skills.”

“We want these young people to start thinking of different careers,” Monday said. “How can they use what they’re already doing and use it to propel themselves forward?”

Santos described how the program could get a teenager to think, “What can I do in the future with this skill set, such as lighting, how to compose an image, how to create revenue using their photography skills.”

Also, OYB ran a STEM robotics and engineering program for high school students over the summer, which had 25 participants.

“If you engage them in the classroom, a lot of kids will respond to that,” Brown said. “We’ll work together in small groups. They’re more likely to participate.”

Brown also runs after school and summer programs for 25 middle school students, to teach them cooking, theater, dance and hip hop, among other topics.

Additionally, the bureau works with Grandpas United to provide mentorship for 60 Ossining High School students to help them navigate their lives.

“The Ossining Youth Bureau is a place where we strive to provide a safe space for young people, to inspire young people through our programming, give them a workforce opportunity,” Monday said. “If you’re looking for a job in Ossining, we’ll figure something out.”

Pleasantville-based writer Michael Gold has had articles published in the New York Daily News, the Albany Times Union, the Hartford Courant, The Palm Beach Post and other newspapers, and The Hardy Society Journal, a British literary journal.

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