On September 25th, the crisp second day of fall, nearly 100 older Harlem adults gathered at the Jackie Robinson Senior Citizen Center, to celebrate the culmination of the West Harlem Summer Senior Employment Program (SSEP). This ambitious annual summertime community-empowerment program represents a groundbreaking collaboration between ReServe Inc. and West Harlem Development Corporation (WHDC). This year’s SSEP employed 100 Harlem residents, age 55 plus, in various nonprofits and community-oriented agencies throughout Harlem. The seniors worked in positions ranging from website design to facilities maintenance, tallying up an impressive 11,000 hours of service for their community.
Dr. Kofi A. Boateng, WHDC’s Executive Director, noted, “It’s just great to honor the participants for all of their success. Together, we have achieved something bigger than ourselves and for the greater good.” Addressing the enthusiastic attendees, Betsy Conrad, Associate Director for ReServe, added, “I want you to know that you are part of a national movement, transforming how we view our older fellow citizens. Your experience, skills, and commitment are powerful resources for building community and providing solutions.”
Upon receiving their certificates of commendation, the attending SSEP participants, for whom a number of their children and grandchildren came to the event, beamed with pride. Participant Pledger Day stated, “We still have a lot of energy and something to give. This program allows us to do so.” Olga Salcedo, a Social Services Coordinator who supervised the Spanish-speaking participants at Our Lady of Lourdes Church, enthused about the program’s galvanizing impact on the summer seniors. “They’re engaged. You can seem them becoming more confident with each day.” The celebration also drew a number of SSEP Partners, the nonprofits hiring the summertime seniors. Vivian Williams Kurutz, Wellness Director of the Harlem Center for Healthy Living (HCHL), summed up employers’ enthusiasm for the program: “We love the value of the summertime ReServists’ experience, the value of their work ethic, and the value of their maturity and respect.” She added, “The ReServists helped us achieve our goals and at a fraction of what it would have otherwise cost us.”
As the first program of its kind, the annual SSEP helps make West Harlem self-empowerment a reality by providing part-time employment to Community Board 9 residents, age 55 and older. The positions enable the senior participants to utilize and expand their skills, help better their community, and earn a modest but game-changing stipend. WHDC funds the stipends through a $216,000 grant provided to ReServe. The benefits are twofold and immediate. Local nonprofits gain fully funded, motivated workers. And with the stipend — the game-changing ReServe program innovation — Harlem receives yet another boost: seniors often reinvest their earnings within their community, strengthening a whole range of local businesses.
In his closing remarks, Dr. Bouteng stated to thunderous applause, “We hope to expand the SSEP to a year-round program.”
Summarizing the outstanding success of the SSEP model, ReServe’s Associate Director Betsy Conrad thanked Dr. Bouteng, Dean Morris, WHDC’s Director of Programs, and the Jackie Robinson Senior Center staff for their efforts. Ms. Conrad concluded to enthusiastic applause by noting, “Our long-term goal is to take programs like the SSEP to the national level.” Having started with 60 seniors in 2013, the SSEP has grown to over 100 participants, with a growing list of applicants seeking entry as word has spread of the program’s success.