July 08, 2010

Mayor Ryan, Senator Gillibrand, Community Partners Kick Off 3rd Annual Summer Youth Employment Program At Binghamton Urban Farm Project

Youth Bureau leverages funds to hire 28 at-risk young people; Senator applauds City’s ongoing use of CDBG to train local youth in green jobs of tomorrow

Binghamton, NY U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Binghamton Mayor Matt Ryan today joined with community partners to kick off the 2010 Summer Youth Employment Program at the Binghamton Urban Farm (BUF) Project, where one component of the Program—the Green Job Youth Corps—will be based.

“For three years running, we’ve used CDBG funds to offer our at-risk young people vital work opportunities, including in the green jobs of tomorrow,” said Mayor Ryan. “That effort is only growing, and none of it could’ve happened without all the players involved, including VINES, Cornell Cooperative Extension, the Department of Planning Housing & Community Development, the City Youth Bureau and of course Senator Gillibrand and her fellow representatives. As the U.S. Conference of Mayors has stated, ‘No other federal-local government program has been as successful as CDBG,’ and it’s funding should be restored to its prior levels. If we want to build a sustainable economy now and for the future, we need to bring our tax dollars back to our communities, and that’s exactly what CDBG does.”

“These federal dollars through the CDBG program will provide much-needed summer work for local youth and help the community enjoy local, fresh produce,” said Senator Gillibrand. “The partnership between the City’s Summer Youth Employment Program and the Binghamton Urban Farm Project is a model for how a community can come together to create jobs for our children while taking aggressive action to combat child obesity. By improving access to fresh produce to communities in Binghamton, we can give people the opportunity to live longer, healthier lives, save billions in health care costs, and create good-paying jobs.”

GREEN JOB YOUTH CORPS & BUF PROJECT
For the third year in a row, the City is directing funds from the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) to employ at-risk young people in green jobs, including work on community gardens, recycling, composting, environmentally-friendly construction and neighborhood clean-ups. By collaborating with Cornell Cooperative Extension to leverage additional funds, the City Youth Bureau each year has been able to hire more than 20 local teens from underserved populations, such as youth of color, in foster care, involved in the criminal justice system or who have dropped out of school.

Through its work with the BUF Project, the Summer Youth Employment Program will increase its employment opportunities to include greenhouse management and business administration. The youth working at the BUF Project will make up the City’s “Green Job Youth Corps,” which Mayor Ryan pledged to create in his 2010 State of the City Address.

“Looking five to ten years into the future, the job market will be very different than it is now,” said Youth Bureau Director Ana Shaello-Johnson. “Exposing our youth to many opportunities helps broaden their outlook on future employment and entrepreneurial avenues.”

Administered by Volunteers Improving Neighborhood Environments (VINES), the BUF Project serves as an agricultural resource for the City’s low-income communities by offering fresh local produce at affordable prices. While operating as a non-profit, VINES intends for BUF to sustain itself financially. To that end, the urban farm is growing food for sale year-round by utilizing energy-efficient growing technologies such as hoop houses, green houses and organic composting systems.

“Our goal is to make fresh, affordable food available to all people in our community, and to grow that food in a way that protects and enhances our natural resources,” said Lauren Tonti, VINES Board Member & Supervisor for Summer Youth Employment Program. “At the same time, we’re developing community resources by involving our youth and community members in the growing process.”

VINES expects BUF’s 2010 growing season to yield more than 3,000 pounds of produce, which will be sold at local farmers’ markets, through a Community Supported Agriculture share system and on site at 16-20 Tudor Street in downtown Binghamton.

The Green Job Youth Corps will assist BUF expand capacity in the coming years. By 2013, VINES aims for BUF to establish a community kitchen that provides residents with affordable healthy meals and cooking classes. In five-to-ten years, organizers seek to establish additional urban farm sites. Throughout their efforts, VINES intends to continue engaging local youth.

“I applaud and support the partnership between the City’s Summer Youth Employment Program and the Binghamton Urban Farm Project,” said Councilwoman Lea Webb, District 4. “This effort creates jobs for our young people, increases community access to fresh and healthy foods and is part of the national movement on jobs and food security, which includes First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Initiative. It’s also the next step towards making my district and the City a vital place to live.”

YOUTH OUTREACH CORPS
In addition to the Green Job Youth Corps, the Summer Youth Employment Program also has employed four teens to the “Youth Outreach Corps,” through which they will survey their peers about the needs of Binghamton’s young people, how local services meet those needs and alternative solutions. The ways these youth employees will engage fellow young people include social media and events.

COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT BLOCK GRANT
The total budget for the entire Summer Youth Employment Program is $34,398, which will go towards wages, work equipment and other materials. All the funds are from the City’s 2009—2010 CDBG budget.

Since its enactment in 1974, CDBG has served as a resource for municipalities to serve low and moderate-income areas, while limiting local property taxes. However, the City’s annual allocation has been cut 18% since 2003.

Local youth employment programs also depend on funds from New York State. Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo has worked to maintain this funding in next year’s State budget.