NYC youth program nets big investment from federal government

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STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Almost 70 young people have directly benefited over the past three years from a Stapleton program offering alternatives to higher education.

Icisis Cruz, of South Beach, is one of those 67 students of the Central Family Life Center’s YouthBuild Impact program that helps people aged 17 to 24 achieve their high school equivalency diplomas, learn skills needed to join different industries and prepare for post-secondary education.

“I dropped out of school. I quit my job due to personal reasons. I didn’t exactly know where my life was headed or what the next step was,” Cruz, who graduated from the program in May, said. “In the process of changing my future, YouthBuild has been there every step of the way.”

Cruz, who had been a high school drop out, is now studying at the College of Staten Island to be a city health worker, and $1.2 million in federal funding announced Tuesday will help the program benefit more students.

Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-Staten Island/South Brooklyn) first became with the familiar with the program during her time in the state Assembly, and helped Stapleton YouthBuild become one of 68 such programs across the country awarded the Department of Labor grant money.

“I was so taken by the way these young people expressed themselves, and what YouthBuild meant to them,” she said. “It’s about developing these young people and giving them a skill, giving them talent, giving them a trade that they can be proud of and that they can build a future on.”

Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-Staten Island/South Brooklyn) and Elizabeth Morgan, director of the Central Family Life Center’s YouthBuild program, speak with program students at the center in Stapleton on Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021. (Staten Island Advance/Paul Liotta)

In addition to the program’s professional and educational components, students also participate in community service around the Island helping with affordable housing construction and recovery after disasters.

YouthBuild Director Elizabeth Morgan said during a press conference at the Central Family Life Center on Wright Street the grant money will help them further expand their services.

“These are our highest-need students who need our support and real change and real programs,” she said. “YouthBuild and programs like YouthBuild give them real hope.”

Initially, the program only had career tracts in construction trades, but has since expanded into the healthcare industry through a partnership with the Staten Island Performing Provider System, Morgan said.

The funding will help expand further into the healthcare industry, and will also help sponsor their upcoming initiative with the 524-unit River North development planned for St. George.

City Councilwoman Debi Rose (D-North Shore) helped negotiate a reduction in that project’s scope, and worked with its developers to ensure the YouthBuild program would be part of River North.

Morgan and the Reverend Dr. Demetrius Carolina, executive director on the Central Family Life Center, testified before the Department of City Planning in favor of the project back in July.

On Tuesday, Carolina said that the increased funding in the program, and more opportunities will mean real benefits for communities around the Island that are in need.

“This meets a very real social, economic need in this nation and educational gap in our society,” he said. “This is here as an alternative for our future.”

Each year the program offers seats to 35 students, and still has open slots for next year. Those interested should call the Central Family Life Center at (718) 273-8414 or send an email to jwonamaker@centralfamilylifecenter.org.