Serve Here CT looks to solve employment, debt problems for young workers
A new $150,000 program in Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's budget would help young adults in eastern Connecticut gain much-needed employment while also taking a substantial chunk of college debt off their plates.
Serve Here CT, which has gained $120,000 in private funding according to its leaders, aims at connecting young people between the ages 18 and 29 with nonprofit and public-sector jobs. The organizations that create these new jobs or increase positions from part time to full time will get $10,000 for the hires after the first year, while program "fellows" will have an equal amount shaved off their student debt — or set aside for future educational needs.
The program leaders are Alva Greenberg and Tom Gullotta, she a former gallery owner, real estate developer and longtime local philantropist, and he the retired former executive director of Child & Family Agency of Southeastern Connecticut. They said during an information session earlier this month that their intention is to increase civic engagement among young people while also tackling several other problems: student debt, joblessness and decreasing funding for nonprofits.
"This is job creation," Greenberg, president and founder of Serve Here CT, said during the meeting at Charter Oak Federal Credit Union. "This is not internships."
And Greenberg vowed that the initial jobs, 15 in all, will be created in eastern Connecticut.
"We know eastern Connecticut," she said to nearly two dozen mostly nonprofit representatives at the information session. "This is a manageable part of the state. You're all good people; we know you play by the rules."
"And $10,000 means something to people here," added Vira Hersh, representing the Lyman Allyn Art Museum.
The Hartford Courant reported this year that Connecticut's average student debt in 2013 was sixth highest in the nation, at slightly more than $30,000.
Maryam Elahi, executive director of the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut, which is holding funds for the program, said she liked the idea that Serve Here CT supports education and service.
"Education is a basic right," Elahi said. "In this country, it is becoming more and more a privilege."
Greenberg, who has been working on developing the program for the past year and a half, said Serve Here CT is a pilot program that she hopes to shepherd toward national recognition in the coming years. The idea dovetails with a book of essays she and Gullotta are editing to recognize the importance of "social capital" — the idea that civic engagement is one of the keys to democracy.
Gullotta said the famed 19th-century writer Alexis de Tocqueville recognized the United States as a special place largely because of the amount of voluntary labor people were willing to expend to help their neighbors. In no other country, he said, would a barn raising be possible.
"This is one of the most scalable policy experiments I've seen in many, many years," said Gullotta, a former professor at Eastern Connecticut State University.
And the program has an academic aspect to it as well, since fellows are expected to attend learning modules that emphasize the virtues of civic engagement. Later, they will be expected to do a case study looking at how their organizations could improve in some way by implementing ideas they develop through the program, such as implementing new fundraising methods.
Greenberg said Serve Here CT will help to stem the brain drain out of Connecticut that occurs every time a young person fresh out of college has to move out of state to find a job. Too many young people who stay in Connecticut are forced to flip hamburgers and pour coffee to survive, she added.
"It becomes a way of jump starting a whole generation that's kind of in neutral," Greenberg said.
To learn more about Serve Here CT, visit www.ServeHereCT.org
Donations to Serve Here CT can be made through the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut at www.cfect.org.
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