At the Alianza Dominicana Cultural Center in Washington Heights, Muntafa Rahman and James Cadden shared their thoughts on serving the community through the center’s youth programs, service projects and internships.
“I’m just very grateful for this opportunity. Our objective is to instill lifelong values in the youths through employment,” Rahman, 20, told Catholic New York in a July 28 interview. “I’m an intern at the Alianza youth employment office; we continuously monitor the youths through orientation, counseling, mentorship and job placement….This is all very significant; we want all our youths to be engaged, to be learning and developing skills.” In September, Rahman will begin his third year at Manhattan College in the Bronx, where he majors in computer engineering.
Cadden, 18, noted, “This place loves to bring the community together, just kind of bring the love here, and bring the creativity here…You definitely feel for the kids who are struggling, or who just really need a job. They come to Catholic Charities to look for it.” Cadden has done a number of service projects and currently interns as an Alianza security monitor, making sure kids are safe at the nearby La Plaza summer and after-school recreational program site.
Alianza, an agency of Catholic Charities of New York, offers youth services and aid to communities in need in the New York City area. Efforts include internships that have been part of New York City’s Work Learn Grow (WLG) employment program. The youth employment programs prepare young people — 14 to 24 years old — for the workforce with career and college readiness workshops and on-the-job experience.
The Alianza Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) began in 1984 to give young people substantive work experience and bring supplemental income to their families. In 2013, Alianza became part of archdiocesan Catholic Charities.
The Work Learn Grow model, an extension of SYEP, creates year-round opportunities for youth from underprivileged communities to strengthen work readiness skills, explore careers and receive academic counseling. Last fall, dozens of participants engaged in college-level courses virtually after school via CUNY College Now.
The Alianza Dominicana Cultural Center is a multi-disciplinary arts center in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan that showcases contemporary and classical Dominican and Latin American art, dance and music. Organizers said intergenerational learning, transnational and cross-cultural activities are the center’s philosophical guidepost.
Lessons and workshops in computer, arts making, popular and traditional dances and Afro-Latin percussion, as well as literary conferences, music and theatrical performances are given free of charge. The cultural center is home to a state-of-the-art computer lab funded by Charter Communications.
Since 2020, Monique Myers, 28, has directed the Youth Employment Program at Alianza, where she got her start at age 19 as an intern. “Our young people need programs like this to stay engaged within their communities, but also to learn those skills, life-changing skills…Every year we have more than 2,000 participants in our programs,” she said.
Michael Sanchez, 24, a senior job developer, told CNY he seeks internship opportunities for youths at businesses, agencies and educational institutions, including Columbia University. “I became part of the staff in 2016; before that I was actually one of the participants, starting when I was 12 by going to one of the summer camps,” said Sanchez, who noted that Alianza offers “a lot of support as far as getting prepared for the real world.”
Heymi Divison Adames, 18, is a youth program assistant who hopes to obtain a degree in psychology. She has participated in the Alianza cultural center dance presentations and has given dance classes to children, and she has modeling experience. “I am very grateful for the summer programs here,” she said. “They have opened doors for me; the administrators offer lots of support.”
Jaiden Figueroa, 15, and Nicole Ventura, 19, were among young people making colorful masks for the Aug. 14 National Dominican Day Parade on Sixth Avenue in Manhattan. Both expressed gratitude for the youth services programs offered by Alianza, with Ms. Ventura, born in the Dominican Republic, noting, “This is a way for me to connect with my culture, my roots, helping to make these masks; and I enjoy the creativity.”
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