Mayor’s Program Prepares for Another Pandemic Summer

Margaret Unger, Contributing Writer

For years, the Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program (MSYEP, or the “Mayor’s Program”) has been providing Cambridge youth with summer employment opportunities. However, like many other summer programs, the Mayor’s Program was significantly affected in 2020 by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the program will continue to feel this impact in summer 2021.

In a typical summer, Cambridge youth aged fourteen and older are eligible to participate in MSYEP throughout the summer after their high school graduation. For most participants, it is their first work experience. Job placements—mostly in Cambridge—range from being a counselor at a summer camp or working in an office, to participating in theater programs or community service projects. According to the City of Cambridge’s website, a third of youth are placed in “Summer Work and Learning Sites, which offer participants a valuable educational and employment experience using the community’s resources to expose youth to potential educational or career paths.” Additionally, participants attend weekly skill-building workshops and have the opportunity to take part in events such as college visits and financial literacy sessions.

It’s so important to be creative and make sure the program that’s historically been so impactful is still around in whatever capacity it is.

— Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui

George Hinds, Director of Youth Employment for the City of Cambridge’s Office of Workforce Development, told the Register Forum that approximately 700 youth were hired by MSYEP in 2020. This is significantly less than the approximately 1000 youth that were hired the year prior. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of worksites were virtual in 2020, limiting the number of participants that could be placed at worksites. As a result, priority was given to youth eligible for free or reduced school lunch. This year, MSYEP will offer in-person, hybrid, and remote worksites, and Hinds says that the program “should have some new opportunities we weren’t able to offer last summer … But we also know that likely won’t allow us to offer opportunities to every teen who wants one.”

Although the Mayor’s Program will once again be limited by the COVID-19 pandemic, Cambridge remains determined to provide this meaningful employment opportunity to as many teens as possible. Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui described MSYEP as “such a valuable experience for young people to explore their interests or passions, and really gain exposure to different career paths,” adding that “especially at a time where our young people have really missed out on so much, I think it’s so important to be creative and make sure the program that’s historically been so impactful is still around in whatever capacity it is.” Mayor Siddiqui herself participated in MSYEP as a teenager, and told the Register Forum that she “loved the Mayor’s Summer Youth Program … I remember doing it, I had a great experience, I got great work experience from it, I made great connections … it all goes back to those early experiences.” While MSYEP might not be able to fully operate again this year, the significance of the experience was not lost on participants in 2020, including CRLS student Alif Sheikh ’23. Sheikh, who through her job helped run a social media campaign raising awareness about thrifting and the water crisis, gave her perspective on the importance of MSYEP continuing to hire youth during the pandemic, saying, “Taking on the responsibility of a job and learning how to manage [one’s] earnings is a crucial part of adolescence that the Mayor’s Program provides.”

Ultimately, MSYEP may not be able to provide placement for every Cambridge youth that applies this summer, as many worksites remain closed or at reduced capacity. Hinds told the Register Forum that he anticipates students will be able to access youth employment advice and help in-person at CRLS in the fall, and encourages teens to reach out to the Virtual Youth Employment Center at any time for skill-building or support with finding employment. In the meantime, MSYEP will operate a different, but hopefully still fulfilling, summer work program in 2021.