Queens nonprofit builds free professional coaching program to support students during pandemic

The City Mentor Program has connected hundreds of students with industry professionals to review their materials and assist with career exploration. (Courtesy of Garri Rivkin, City Tutors)

The City Tutors, a Queens-based volunteer tutor and mentor nonprofit in Rego Park with a citywide outreach, has managed to help CUNY students and recent college graduates secure internships and job opportunities through its new initiative, The City Mentor Program. 

While the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately impacted CUNY students from low-income communities in New York City, the City Mentor Program established in March 2020 has provided students with the necessary tools and resources offering resume and cover letter revision, interview prep, LinkedIn page audit, and network expansion. 

Garri Rivkin is executive director of City Tutors, a nonprofit originally launched in City College of New York (CCNY) in Harlem, largely serving 16- to 24-year-olds who are currently in high school, college, or are recent graduates. Their goal is to ensure no one is left behind, and that everyone has resources available to them, according to Rivkin. 

“We want to bring equitable access to these resources for communities that have been historically underserved,” Rivkin said. “We wanted to make sure that we can lend a helping hand to support students, but also a broad support for anyone who needs help.” 

During the early days of the COVID-19 crisis in March, many students lacked access to industry insiders who could help review their materials and assist with career exploration, Rivkin said. The City Tutors Mentor Program sought to change that by providing working professionals and companies the opportunity to support New Yorkers from communities historically underserved and especially vulnerable job market challenges brought on by the pandemic. Over 70 percent of mentorship beneficiaries in the program are people of color. 

The program has more than 250 mentors from across industries such as finance/business, healthcare, law, marketing/advertising, technology, education, publishing, nonprofit and government. 

“Since March, we’ve facilitated over 800 mentorships — that’s over 1,500 sessions,” Rivkin said. “Some of the major corporate partners are from companies like Goldman Sachs, Viacom CBS, IBM and Citi.” 

Once a student confirms their participation in the program, they are connected with a mentor. The long-term mentors work with the program’s tutors to develop their professional capacity over a period of six months, while short-term mentors work with anyone from the community to develop their resumes, LinkedIn profiles, or to hold information sessions on their industry. 

“City Mentors connected me with two generous and supportive people, one a software engineer and the other a recruiter. Over the course of a few meetings, they helped me to gain confidence, develop a strategy for my continued learning and job search, and offered me a chance to ask questions and receive insight shaped by real-world experiences,” a CCNY City mentee participant said. 

There’s a need for professional coaching, according to Rivkin, especially if a student doesn’t come from a community with easy access to obtain information. 

“There’s clearly an appetite, and as we’ve grown we have partnered with Career Services within CUNY but also with various nonprofits whose students also need the support,” Rivkin said. 

Rivkin says he sees the mentor program continuing even after the pandemic, based on increased participation and more companies that recognize the value of supporting fellow New Yorkers. 

“There’s so many people that are getting the opportunity for the first time to go to college and an opportunity that their parents might not have had,” Rivkin said. “Having as many channels of support and access is so crucial in order for them to stay persistent and propel forward.” 

Rivkin, a refugee from Lithuania who immigrated to America with his mother in 1996, said his family did not know how to access resources and he was unsure whether he would go to college. When he was recommended by his teacher to attend City College, that’s where he found great opportunities and professors who helped him along the way. 

“I was a beneficiary of being in the right place and having people who took a chance on me, but it wasn’t like there was a particular place I could go to that didn’t require luck,” Rivkin said. 

Rivkin’s establishment of the City Tutors Program is very much community-driven, developing a hub for professional development and support.

“It started with one program and hoped that the model itself would work, that volunteers would have the right incentives to do the work,” Rivkin said. “We’re hoping that we can add more and expand to something that can continue to help New Yorkers.” 

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