As the Bronx fights to revitalize its economy nearly two years after the start of the pandemic, a new cohort of Lehman College students has been dispatched to small businesses and nonprofits in the borough as part of the Bronx Recovery Corps, a program that allows students to earn academic credit and gain work experience while contributing to the region’s comeback.
Lehman launched the initiative in January in collaboration with the nonprofit HERE to HERE. Braiding workplace learning into students’ academic development, the Corps pairs students with local businesses and community organizations for paid, part-time positions. The program offers students training, mentoring and the opportunity to expand their networks, preparing them for careers in growing industries like health care, hospitality and education.
It benefits local businesses and community organizations by connecting employers with a pool of diverse, local talent at a critical time. What’s more, job funding for these students comes not from the employer but a generous grant from Deutsche Bank Americas Foundation and, if students are eligible, the federal work/study program.
“The Bronx Recovery Corps is a demonstration of what Lehman does best, which is to identify challenges affecting our students and the wider community, propose solutions, and provide the support needed for the response to have real impact,” said Lehman College President Fernando Delgado. “It exemplifies Lehman’s commitment to expanding opportunities for our students and working with partners in the business and nonprofit space to cultivate and harness the talent pipeline in the Bronx while boosting the area’s recovery.”
The promise of the Bronx Recovery Corps is so strong that even elected officials are earmarking funds for it. U.S. Rep. Adriano Espaillat set aside $250,000 in federal aid for the program as part of a requested $11.5 million in community project funding for his district (NY-13), which includes parts of the Bronx and upper Manhattan. It was approved by the House of Representatives over the summer and awaits approval by the Senate.
What’s more, others have begun to replicate the model. In June, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the city would invest $4.5 million over five years to create the Brooklyn Recovery Corps at Medgar Evers College.
Like the Corps’ inaugural cohort in the spring, the new cohort will include a total of 40 student fellows, who will be matched with 11 local businesses and community groups over the 2021-22 academic year. Fifteen students began working with partnering organizations in October and will continue through the spring, while one student already employed by a local business will be matched with a professional mentor through the Corps’ partnership with City Mentors. Additional fellows are currently being recruited and will begin working during the spring semester, from February to June.
Students in the inaugural cohort found the workshops and the career readiness course incredibly valuable. They also spoke highly of their placements, which they said either aligned with or clarified their professional interests.
Mabel Lanzo, a junior graphic design major and 2021-22 fellow, agrees. She was matched with VOLS, a nonprofit that provides free, civil legal services to underserved communities, and assists in designing the group’s flyers and ads.
“I used to always second guess myself and tell myself, no, you can’t do this, but thanks to the program and my internship at VOLS, I’ve seen that I can be responsible and organized and master time management,” she said. “The Bronx Recovery Corps program helps you learn more about yourself and what your skill sets are, and it gives you the necessary confidence to go into a workplace and give 100 percent.”