Essential Worker Highlight: Raihan Mondal, Program Director of CPC Brooklyn Education and Career
While medical personnel treat the coronavirus in our hospitals, other human service providers and essential workers are ensuring New Yorkers have the resources they need to not only remain safe but also continue to have opportunities to thrive. These individuals, whether working from home or within our neighborhoods, are supporting a strong recovery for those who are too often overlooked, underrepresented, or underinvested in.
The following Q&A took place between Chris Kuo of CPC Leadership Council and Raihan Mondal, Program Director of CPC Brooklyn Education and Career Services. Raihan oversees all of CPC’s Brooklyn-center based youth programs. Throughout the pandemic, he has also supported the Resource Navigators initiative for individuals exposed to COVID-19.
The CPC Leadership Council is a tight-knit community of business and nonprofit leaders who seek to advance CPC’s mission to promote social and economic empowerment of Chinese American, immigrant, and low-income communities.
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Essential Worker Highlight: Raihan Mondal, Program Director of CPC Brooklyn Education and Career
Chris Kuo, Leadership Council: How did you end up working at CPC?
Raihan Mondal, Brooklyn ECS Program Director: I am the Program Director for the Brooklyn branch of CPC Education and Career Services (ECS). Currently, because of the COVID-19 situation, I also work as a supervisor for the Resource Navigators program. I started off at CPC back when I was a junior in high school. A good friend of mine at the time knew I had zero job experience and referred me to CPC’s Summer Youth Employment Program, which got me my first ever job experience. I ended up joining the In-School Youth program and Project Gateway in my senior year. I went on to work at CPC’s Queens branch through college as an SYEP monitor and then as a program aide. Once I had graduated, there was a job opening at CPC for its Brooklyn-based youth services. I worked as an education specialist for a bunch of different youth programs before becoming the director. I’ve been involved with CPC for a long time now, maybe 11 years or more. It's been a heck of a journey.
Chris Kuo, Leadership Council: Could you tell us more about the youth programs you oversee?
Raihan Mondal, Brooklyn ECS Program Director: CPC Brooklyn ECS serves between 1,000 -1,200 young people per year. The two biggest programs that we operate are the DYCD-funded Summer Youth Employment Program and our year-round Service Learning Initiative. SYEP offers youth paid summer internships and workshops on topics like job readiness and financial literacy. Our Service Learning Initiative provides youth with opportunities for meaningful community service projects. It was actually a funded program many years ago and was continued by youth volunteers who wanted to keep it alive. For a time, the Service Learning Initiative was run solely by these volunteers, and when I became the Brooklyn ECS director, I prioritized continuing the program because of the value it holds for young people wanting to give back to the community. We try to make sure that each service project allows participants to reflect on their experiences, their cultures, and their communities. Each year youth want to do something different, and recent projects have had an emphasis on advocacy work, like raising money for the Innocence Project, holding a hunger banquet to talk about food insecurity, making and handing out sandwiches for those in need and spreading the word about the census. We’ve partnered up with CPC’s advocacy division to teach youth how to advocate for themselves and how funding for city programs works. We also have a partnership with Apex for Youth through which working professionals from different fields offer mentorship to our youth.
Chris Kuo, Leadership Council: What made you want to choose this career path?
Raihan Mondal, Brooklyn ECS Program Director: Although I was born in NYC, I spent six or seven years of my childhood in Bangladesh. When I came back to the US, I had to relearn English and take ESL classes alongside my regular classes in school. Because of the help I got from my teachers, however, I was able to quickly adjust and transition to regular schooling. At CPC’s In School Youth program, I felt like I had the best mentors ever. They brought so much energy with them and taught me things like how to apply to college and what to expect when applying for a job. I had a really positive experience from that, and this is why I ended up doing what I'm doing now. When I started working at CPC and noticed youth coming into our programs who lacked experience, lacked skills, or were going through a hard time at home, I remembered what it was like for me in high school. There were so many opportunities that I would not have had access to if I hadn’t been a part of CPC programming. I thought that if I could do for a young person what my mentors did for me, that would be an amazing feeling. And I was right. I am not alone in this thinking, either – a lot of youth who go through our programs come back and ask about becoming mentors to the next generation of students. They are happy with where they are in life and want to give back.
Chris Kuo, Leadership Council: How has the pandemic affected your work?
Raihan Mondal, Brooklyn ECS Program Director: Everything we do had to change with COVID-19. In our shift to virtual programming, we had to learn new skills and become familiar with platforms that we had never used before. Our office hours, which used to offer youth a space to interact with staff and do homework, got replaced by weekly Zoom sessions, as did our youth mentorship activities. Program attendance suffered as some youth found virtual programming after a whole day of remote learning too straining. Our program’s camping trip, a teambuilding opportunity that youth were looking forward to, had to be canceled. Our youth had planned to hold a fair at a middle school but instead we did Census outreach over the phone, which angered some community members who didn’t want to be receiving phone calls. SYEP initially got canceled, which was a major loss for youth that depend on the work experience and income supplement. After advocacy efforts by CPC and other CBOs, SYEP came back as the Summer Bridge Program, a five-week virtual learning experience focused on work readiness. We had professionals from different businesses and sectors join the Zoom sessions as panelists. Youth completed workplace challenges that involved identifying ways to deal with COVID-19 in the context of a particular sector or company. The pay earned by participants was a lot less than it would normally be made through SYEP. During the peak of the pandemic, our Service Learning participants also reached out to local businesses to confirm the hours that they would be open. We hoped getting the word out about these establishments would help keep them in business and revitalize the local economy.
Chris Kuo, Leadership Council: What about your new role with the Resource Navigators program?
Raihan Mondal, Brooklyn ECS Program Director: As a supervisor for the Resource Navigators program, I help community members who have or may have been exposed to COVID-19 find resources to support them through their quarantine and isolation. I work with a team to connect them with things like free food, assistance paying for their bills, a letter for work, and support for all sorts of different needs that come up at a time like this. This program is very important because we are able to help individuals that are really vulnerable right now and need to get their life back on track. It's pretty devastating that so many people have had deaths in their family. This is one way that we are helping the city recover from the pandemic. It has been so meaningful working with the community members, who are all very thankful for what we do.
Chris Kuo, Leadership Council: What changes would you make to your youth programs if you had more resources?
Raihan Mondal, Brooklyn ECS Program Director: The first thing I would like to do is add more programming. I think CPC excels at programming because we have quality staff who work hard to make a meaningful impact on our community members, but we're still lacking some services. We used to have an opportunity youth program for a large number of years (the Young Adult Internship Program), but unfortunately it was discontinued due to budgeting constraints. That doesn't mean that the need doesn't exist anymore. There are a lot of young people out there who are neither in school nor working. If we could find funding, I would make sure that we are able to properly help these individuals. I would also like build up our infrastructure by getting a computer lab or at least a sufficient number of laptops for our youth to use. In the post-pandemic world, there's going to be a bigger emphasis on digital media and remote technologies. As well, we're always looking for more people who are interested in becoming youth mentors, career panel participants, guest speakers, or service project facilitators.
Chris Kuo, Leadership Council: Is there a memory from your work that you would like to share?
Raihan Mondal, Brooklyn ECS Program Director: One particular story that I'll always remember is that of a youth participant in our Young Adult Internship Program, later known as Advance and Earn. He was a recent immigrant from China who was still learning English, and every single time he was asked to participate in our class, he would start off with, "I'm really sorry, everyone, but my English is not good." We must have heard him say the same thing at least 200 times by the end of the program. His English was actually not bad, but he was so self-conscious whenever he had to speak. As the program went on, he ended up applying to and attending Berkeley College. A year or two later, I was at a workshop with a group of over 200 youth listening to some guest speakers. One of them was a representative from Berkeley College who mentioned that her school actually had a CPC program alumnus whom she wanted to address the group. As I looked on from the far back of the crowd, I noticed the speaker she introduced looked familiar. It was the young man who was always apologizing for his English! But this time he was speaking at length about all the positive aspects of our program, how it helped him gain confidence in himself, and how he was now interning at Google. It was pretty impressive to hear him speak like that. After his presentation ended, I went over to talk to him. He told me he was doing well in school and that he wanted to become a mentor to our youth. It’s always so inspiring to see individuals like him who want to pay it forward. The fact that he was able to advocate for himself and also encourage other youth to get the most they can out of our programming really moved me.
Essential workers risk their health and their families’ health to serve others through COVID-19. As New York begins to recover, organizations like CPC will be among the ones helping the hardest hit New Yorkers put their lives back together. Support them here! #AlwaysEssential