Creating Opportunities for San Francisco Youth During COVID-19

This summer we saw the world rise up and take to the streets. People were calling for justice and change. And while a lot of that focus was rightfully on addressing police violence against black people, it was also about changing our entire system to make it more equitable. To lift up communities that had been left behind.

To do that work, which I’ve been committed to doing since long before I’ve been in office, we need to empower our young people. We need to give them real opportunities to learn, to thrive, and to find their way. That is why in 2018, I created Opportunities for All (OFA), a program where our students can get paid internships and learn real world skills and responsibilities.

Now, when we first created OFA, we couldn’t have predicted that the program would have to adapt to a global pandemic like COVID-19. But this pandemic has targeted disparities in our society and has shown us just how important it is to have programs like OFA that prioritize equity and support our most vulnerable communities.

We continued the OFA program this summer and school year, because we can’t afford to let disparities in our society keep widening during the pandemic. We needed to adapt to COVID-19 and keep supporting youth in our community.

Paid Internships and Economic Recovery

Given the impact of COVID-19 on the economy, layoffs, and significant unemployment, we knew it was going to be important for the City to keep providing internships and work-based learning opportunities for youth. According to a United Nations special report, young people between the ages of 15 to 24 are projected to be severely impacted by COVID-19.

We know our economic recovery on the whole is interwoven with the success of our young people. In fact, the Brookings Institute published a report that recovery from a recession in the U.S. is dependent upon the success of young workers.

So we got to work creating new and innovative approaches for youth to gain the skills they need to prepare for the future and avoid cycles of poverty. Because once the economy starts recovering and jobs come back, we want to make sure that young people in San Francisco — especially those youth from communities who have historically been left behind — are ready to participate in that recovery.

We also knew that in the short-term, continuing to provide OFA placements would be important for keeping young people connected to their community and civically engaged. And for some OFA participants, having access to a paid internship has helped support their family during a really challenging time. For example, one student named Jairo participated in OFA this summer, and at the time, he was the sole income earner for his family.

Adapting to COVID-19

We knew early on distance learning could impact our ability to provide youth opportunities to develop and improve their skills. With this in mind, Opportunities for All adapted to meet the moment. Early on in our citywide response to COVID-19, OFA organized several activities and projects to meet the immediate needs of the community.

We distributed over 3,000 books and activity kits to students with our partners in public housing and CBOs. OFA also distributed more than 150 laptops and tablets so that students who didn’t already have access to technology could participate in distance learning.

OFA Placements this Summer

In addition to providing supplies and other support, we continued providing opportunities for paid internships and fellowships, with virtual recruitment and onboarding. Over 1,300 young people participated in OFA paid internships during the summer of 2020, and nearly 70 have participated in OFA fellowships.

Placements were diverse and included internships with community organizations, private companies and City departments. OFA is about more than one-off jobs or internships. It’s about providing an opportunity to learn transferable skills, gain leadership experience, and network. It’s also an opportunity for young people to be civically engaged and give back to their community.

We worked with community partners to develop remote learning opportunities for youth, including Code Tenderloin, Dev/Mission, Community Youth Center, Collective Impact, Japanese Community Youth Council, and Young Community Developers.

Our partners adapted to remote work and young people were able to participate in placements this summer with Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn. BlackRock offered an internship placement for high school students this year, which was the first time they’ve had high school students before!

This summer, Manuel Montoya was a fellow at BlackRock. Manuel is from San Francisco and has participated in OFA programs since he was a senior in high school. He is now a student at Sacramento State University.

“I learned so much about financial literacy — from the seminars and from BlackRock staff. They taught us so much key information that we took with us about retirement, saving, and investing. The OFA program teaches and empowers us.”

Continuing the Work this Fall

Several of the programs that we started this summer are continuing throughout the fall. These placements will keep San Francisco youth connected to their community and give them a chance to keep gaining professional experience during the school year. Here are a few of the placements that we currently have:

OFA Transitional Aged Youth ambassadors are helping with community outreach and engagement, distributing face coverings and supporting programs in the Mission, Bayview, Western Addition, and the Tenderloin. 22 ambassadors are helping at the Latino Task Force Resource Hub.

When asked about her experience, Susana, an ambassador at the Latino Task Force said:

“For me personally the best part has been being able to help out all those families in need and knowing that for them everything that we do means the world and helps them very much. When people come here they leave satisfied and grateful that there are places like this created to help minorities. I have always been interested in helping my community and have done so since I was old enough to volunteer, this opportunity has given me much more experience with my community.”

4 OFA youth are supporting the Boys and Girls Club in the Tenderloin with the Play Streets and Community Hubs programs. An OFA intern at the Plaza East housing complex is helping reimagine educational activities and arts and crafts programs for young residents in a virtual way.

The Cross-Cultural Justice Cohort has 10 youth who are working to build a youth coalition between the­ Asian and Pacific Islander community and the African American community in San Francisco. They are addressing real, and challenging topics such as ending the model minority myth, implicit bias, allyship, and understanding intersectionality. Led by Fellow Athena Edwards, they are working to build community while combating stigmas and stereotypes that manifest in racism, affecting both communities.

Eryanah is part of the Cross-Cultural Justice Cohort, where interns have the opportunity to talk about racial justice and their lived experiences:

“I’ve learned that most African Americans go through some form of racial profiling or are discriminated against — and that shouldn’t be normalized. It shouldn’t be like ‘oh that’s just another day.’ That’s not how we should be living.”

The Young Defend­­­­ers Cohort is underway for 15 youth. Throughout their high school years, they will learn about the criminal justice system, and work on restorative justice recommendations and initiatives. Interns will also receive credits towards high school graduation.

  • The Cohort will be presenting their first event series: “Know Your Rights!” Interns will also share information about key positions within the criminal justice system, and facilitate a Q&A. Registration: October 21, 2020 at 5pm and October 30, 2020 at 5pm.

Athena was an OFA fellow, who has stayed with the program to help mentor interns in the Young Defenders Cohort and Cross-Cultural Justice Cohort:

“I have learned how passionate they are about reform and the justice system and understanding how it works the way it does. This group of young people will be the next generation who are fighting the good fight for justice and greatness.”

Leadership Experience

In addition to our intern placements, we created a new Fellowship program this year which provided additional leadership opportunities for youth. This summer we had 68 college-aged Fellows leading cohorts of interns. These Fellows work directly with high school students, create project design, and develop their projects and presentations.

OFA also introduced the Senior Fellow position this year. This year’s cohort of Senior Fellows consists of 12 upper-class college students, and postgraduates, who each manage a small group of younger college students and helped to empower and enable the Fellows to become leaders and mentors for the high school interns.

Amaris, an ambassador at the Latino Task Force said:

“As a first generation Latina, I’ve persevered through challenges that have molded me to appreciate my culture and identity. My experience with the Latino Task Force has humbled me more than ever. This place has opened my heart and eyes to my community in need. Because my community has healed me with its history, culture, art, and love, it’s my turn to help give back and heal the community that made me who I am today.”

OFA partnered with Coro Northern California to provide training for incoming Fellows and Senior Fellows. During the two-week training, Fellows learned to build an agenda, set goals, propose outcomes, and define responsibilities, a skillset they were able to put into practice in their cohorts.

Funding for OFA

Our budget for the next two years includes $5.5 million in funding to continue OFA. Although we’ve continued to direct City funding to OFA, the economic impact of COVID-19 makes funding programs and other work-based learning opportunities difficult and requires partnerships between the private sector and government. Current partners who have stepped up to help this summer include:

  • The Crankstart Foundation
  • Google
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Dolby
  • Alaska Airlines
  • Bank of America

For a full list of all of the partners for summer 2020, go to www.opps4allsfsummer2020.org

45th Mayor of the City and County of San Francisco

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