Opening Hearts and Doors

Lily Kesselman Photography©
Futures and Options gives New York City teens an edge in the job market by instilling confidence and teaching important skills.

The Brooklyn junior could not picture a future beyond high school. With subpar grades, her prospects were scant.

So the 15 year-old from Crown Heights contacted Futures and Options.  The Lower Manhattan nonprofit, which provides New York City teens with internships, mentoring and job training, helped her focus, get organized and revamp her resume. “She followed through with everything we asked her to do,” recalls Futures and Options Executive Director Patty Machir.

The organization then found her an internship at the nonprofit Bronx Works. She commuted from Brooklyn every day for six weeks, worked hard, was never late and never missed a day. The experience spawned a newfound confidence and dreams for the future – she now wants to be a chef or a designer.

“We witnessed the transformation of this young lady,” Machir says. “Before, she was not a successful student. Now, she has a vision for her future.”

There are more than 4,000 stories like this – tales of long odds overcome and new doors opened. None of them would have been possible without Futures and Options.

Established in 1995, the organization gives motivated middle and high school students in New York City the chance to imagine, explore and realize futures and options they did not know were possible. Students gain the discipline, skills and self-respect they need in order to take control of their lives and contribute to their communities.

Many students “live on the edge of poverty,” says Machir. “They are facing adversity that more affluent kids do not have to deal with.” Most have no connections or access to professional opportunities.

The Alliance for Downtown New York is the founding sponsor of Futures and Options and has hired 39 of its interns since then.

The organization’s impact has been remarkable.  In 2012, Futures and Options partnered with 151 private and nonprofit organizations to offer internships and career exploration field trips. It also worked with 93 New York City high schools last year to recruit students for the program.

The result of these efforts? Ninety-nine percent of the 490 students it served last year graduated on time – compared to 65 percent of New York City public school students— and 94 percent were college-bound.

Teens who work while in high school are more likely to graduate and less likely to engage in criminal activity or get pregnant, says Machir.

Giving the next generation a leg up is also an investment in the future economy and workforce, she adds.

For many of these teens, the window of opportunity is small and brief. “If we don’t give them opportunities now, they won’t be prepared for jobs,” says Machir. “It is enormously important that they get work experience, training and support from caring human beings, so they can get launched.”

From October 25 to November 3, there is an easy and fun way to give more teens a path to a brighter future. By making a $50, fully tax deductible donation to Futures and Options, you will receive the “opportunity card.” The card will earn you a 20 percent discount at more than 235 participating stores and restaurants in the tri-state area. Every dollar donated goes to support Futures and Options programs. To learn more, go to theopportunitycard.org or call Futures and Options at 212-601-0002.