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What do you do for a living?

I am a program manager for the Department of Youth and Community Development for a major U.S City.

How would you describe what you do?

That means that we use tax-levied money to support programs throughout the city.  Those programs range from things like the YMCA, initiatives to help young people up to the age of 24 get a job. They might be mentoring programs where people try and help get them into the work force.  The bulk of what we do is fund after school programs and what are called “Beacon Centers”.  Beacon Centers are like community centers, generally in high-needs neighborhoods.  Those places will generally have a gym, some classroom spaces.  They might be dual use – like during the day senior citizens might use them for a rec area, and then after school hours it kind of turns over to the young people.

What does your work entail?

My role as a program manager is to manage the individual contracts.  They are generally contracts that are three years guaranteed and then renewed depending on a variety of factors after that.  So, a couple of times a year, I visit all of those programs and give them a rating.  Generally, my role is to be supportive of them.  If a program is trying to find a good basketball coach, or a good literacy curriculum, then I can make recommendations.  With over 500 after school programs, it’s rare that we would move to shut one down.  That’s a last resort.

It’s neat to see kids who may not enjoy school from 8-3, go to an after school program where they can do robotics, or they can do sports, or they can do community building. Some of our programs do some really good community works projects where they’re converting empty lots into gardens, or painting murals. It’s neat to see young people having a positive impact on their community.

Also I work on their budgets.  These programs have a contract with us for a dollar amount and that amount is pretty much the same year to year, unless there’s a budget cut and they send a year plan of what they’re going to do with that budget so I can see what staff they’re going to cover, how many staff, what hours of operation they’re going to have, what they’re going to spend money on for supplies.

A program can buy a flat screen TV, they don’t need to buy ten flat screen TVs. So, I just make sure that they’re using the money appropriately.  Some of what you hear about working for governments is true. It’s bureaucratic, there’s paperwork, and sometimes things move slow.

So when I go visit a program, that generates a report that I write up and that gets approved by two or three people, and gets sent out to the provider so they know if they’re on good-standing or not, so some of that is a lot of “back and forth”.

On the other hand our agency received some of the Obama money, so we definitely got to see that money at work helping people here.

What does a typical workweek look like for you?

One of the good things about my job is that it is 9-5 or 10-6. We have flex-time that I come in between 9 and 10, and prior to working here, I worked for an after school program where I was always dealing with parents and kids, and while it was rewarding, it was also challenging, because I always needed to be available.  One thing I like about my job now is that when I go home, I generally don’t think about it until the next day. That’s a lifestyle thing. Would I go back to the other way? Yeah, if it was the right job, but I do value having a life after work.

What a general work week is like, Monday through Friday, mornings, taking care of paperwork and checking up on email, doing requests for information from providers or colleagues, etc.  I spend about three days a week going out to visit programs and they’re in all the boroughs of New York.  I’ll check out a City car if the programs are far from the subway, go visit the program for two hours, go home, come back the next day, fill out that paperwork, load it into the computer, and do more of the same.

One of the great things about the unit that I work in is that if you want to work on other projects, there are opportunities to do so.  I’ve been able to advance the FIRST Robotics within DYCD.  We were able to get funding for 40 Lego teams and that’s been something that I’ve helped carry on for three or four years now.  It’s challenging because funding is tough to get, but I think technology is kind of a buzzword right now for working with kids.  It’s been neat to be able to carry over some of my own experience plus what I’ve been able to do with a wider range of people.

How did you get started with this career?

I was going to graduate school in here and there was an after school program around the corner from my apartment.  I was looking for a part-time job, and went there.  I started working as an administrative assistant essentially, and part-time lead to full-time, and when I went to full-time I worked there for four years, and then I met someone who worked for DYCD, which was actually funding the program I worked for.  I made that connection and thought it would be interesting to go work for the city agency and to see the youth development field from a different perspective. It’s not something I planned on, but something that naturally progressed.

What do you like about what you do?

I like seeing programs that are effective.  It’s not easy to work with teenagers and young people, especially if they’re going to schools that are not top notch.  There are a lot of things going against that population, so it’s neat to see kids who may not enjoy school from 8-3, go to an after school program where they can do robotics, or they can do sports, or they can do just community building.  Some of our programs do some really good community works projects where they’re converting empty lots into gardens, or painting murals.  It’s neat to see young people having a positive impact on their community.

The advice that I would have for somebody looking for this kind of position is to go work for a non-profit for a year or two and find out what it’s like to really be in an environment where resources are slim and there’s a lot of need. You’ll learn a lot from it and you’ll be able to prioritize what agencies need.

What do you dislike about the job?

Sometimes it’s difficult to stay motivated whenever you know that, as working for a city agency, there’s not a lot of reward for going above and beyond.  Your pay scale is pretty much set in stone and so the only way to really advance is to move up, and that’s well and good but it can be difficult because it can be very political, and be based less on merit and more on factors that are outside your control.

How do you make money or how are you compensated for this job?

I’m paid a salary.

How much money do you make as the City Manager for Youth Programs?

$60,000

How much money do you make starting out in this job?

All city employees start off in my role at $53,000 and after two years, you get a bump, so now I’m making the same amount as somebody in my position who has been here for 5 or 10 years more than I have.

Would you say that there are any perks associated with your job?

There are holidays I get off like Columbus Day.  I think a perk is not having to worry about my work when I’m not here.  Being able to drive a city car is a perk.

I definitely visit neighborhoods I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. And, because it is related to the city, there are times when there are perks – like for special events.  Sometimes, very occasionally it will be tickets to a baseball game, or you’ll get a special invite to a special event, things like that.

What education or skills are needed to do this?

It really ranges.  Generally, you need to have a college degree.  It would help if you had a Master’s in either social work or public administration.

You have to be able to use a computer.  You have to be comfortable going online and pulling information, using spreadsheets, additional skills.  I’m finding more and more that there are people who are comfortable being in front of a group of people and others who are not.  If you’re not, you can only go so far in this job because you’re going to be asked to be in front of a group of people at one point or another.

When people are advocating for government funding to be cut, keep in mind that those cuts can have some very real effects. Here that could mean that potentially 80,000 kids won’t have a summer program. Either their parents will be staying home from work, or those kids will be running around. So just realize when you are cutting budgets, there are real repercussions to that, so you want to be clear about what you’re saying should be cut because if you’re cutting programs we can use, you’re setting up the future, both immediate and long-term, to be jeopardized.

What is most challenging about what you do?

The pace, you can go to a meeting and people will be in agreement about what needs to happen, but it can still take two weeks for a report to get approved, because it has to go to people who are outside that meeting and run up the channels that usually go all the way up to the Mayor. And when it goes that high there are a lot of other things that have priority.  And that can be challenging because a priority to us at the agency might not be a priority at that level, so it can be challenging to wait.

What would you say is the most rewarding about what you do?

When you visit a summer camp and there’s 150 kids there on a beautiful July afternoon, and they’re just getting back from going on a field trip that they would not have gotten to take otherwise.  You can tell that they’re appreciative of it, and the program is taking pride in what they’re doing. That’s a nice thing to see.

What advice would you offer someone considering this career?

The advice that I would have for somebody looking for this kind of position is to go work for a non-profit for a year or two and find out what it’s like to really be in an environment where resources are slim and there’s a lot of need.  You’ll learn a lot from it and you’ll be able to prioritize what agencies need.

How much time off do you get or take with this job?

When you start off, it’s two weeks a year, and goes up gradually after that.  That’s probably one of the downsides of working for the City, is that they track every minute. You can get overtime, but it can be hard to get. At a non-profit, there would be plenty of times that I would work 60 hour weeks for a while and then say, “I’m taking a week off”, and that was accepted and encouraged, whereas here, every week you go to check your spreadsheet of your City time and it tells you to the minute how much vacation time you have. It’s kind of a micromanaged thing. If I thought I could work more and get off more, I would. But that’s not the system.

What is a common misconception people have about what you do?

I think there is a lot of misconception right now about public service workers and that everybody is overpaid and has a great pension, and everybody has great benefits, and that people aren’t even working.

There is some truth to every joke, but for the most part, 98% of the people I work with care about what they’re doing and are dedicated to it and work very very hard. I think the misconception is the opposite – that people are just sitting around and doing nothing.

I really don’t think it’s much different than an average corporate setting.

What are your goals and dreams for the future in this career?

In the short term, I’m looking for opportunities to move up within the agency. After that, I would like to be in a leadership position in either another government agency, or within a non-profit that is working in the community to make it improve, so maybe an executive director position in an average-sized community based organization.

What else would you like people to know about what you do?

When people are advocating for government funding to be cut, keep in mind that those cuts can have some very real effects.  Here that could mean that potentially 80,000 kids won’t have a summer program. Either their parents will be staying home from work, or those kids will be running around.

So just realize when you are cutting budgets, there are real repercussions to that, so you want to be clear about what you’re saying should be cut because if you’re cutting programs we can use, you’re setting up the future, both immediate and long-term, to be jeopardized.

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