By Joe Anuta
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and city Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott paid a visit to the Queens Botanical Garden last Thursday to kick off New York’s Summer Youth Employment Program.
“Sometimes summer jobs can really start you on a career path,” the mayor said. “That was true for me.”
After a summer job at an electronics shop, Bloomberg went on to study engineering at Johns Hopkins University, although the youngsters who will be working in Queens will be much closer to nature.
About 35 young men and women, out of about 30,000 total participants citywide in the program, will be working as greeters, horticulture aides and aides to the Children’s Garden at Flushing’s foliage oasis. Others around the city will try their hand at all manner of toiling, with some even making a little extra spending money.
The program received about $40 million in funding, with about half of it coming from city coffers. About $13 million came from the state and half of that from the federal government.
Many private entities were also involved in promoting and funding the program, including the Wal-Mart Foundation.
The discount retail giant has been trying to get a toehold in New York City for several years, where it has met vehement resistance from local leaders and civic groups opposed to the big box store setting up shop in the five boroughs — although nothing could legally stop it from opening a location that meets all of the zoning and land-use requirements.
“Anyone who wants to be a good corporate citizen, we welcome that,” Bloomberg said.
Walcott also discussed two new initiatives from the city Department of Education that will seek to prevent what he termed “summer learning loss” in certain communities throughout the city.
“The research is clear that summer learning loss disproportionately impacts our most vulnerable low-income students, which is why it is so important that we continue to support our city’s summer jobs programs and pilot new initiatives,” said Walcott, who was a participant in the city’s summer jobs program in the 1960s.
Summer employment is linked to better performance in the classroom, better test scores, higher graduation rates and larger salaries, according to the mayor’s office, which is why the many programs announced at the garden are an asset to the city’s future workforce.
At one point, the mayor alluded to a speech he gave at a hot dog eating contest the week before in Brooklyn, when the frequency of frankfurter puns in his prepared dialogue prompted him to stop and question who wrote it, dropping a four-letter word.
“They’ll be spending the next seven weeks guiding visitors, working in gardens and greenhouses and helping their own budding careers take root and begin to grow,” he said, adding, “Pun, pun.”
The 30,000 youngsters who are selected are culled from thousands more, which means getting selected all the more exciting, according to Sharnell Creary, a recent Hillcrest High School graduate who was a prior participant in the program.
“I thought my application would be just one of the many,” she said. “Thank God it wasn’t.”
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4566.