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CITI Youth Interns Hit the Ground Running

citi youth interns 2009-2010

In a cramped meeting room in Washington Heights, a high school student scurries to set up a laptop and projector. Searching for a free surface in an already packed room, she makes her best effort to connect cords and load her presentation quickly before the committee chairperson calls to order the community board meeting, the student’s very first. The student, Nicole Lugo, is one of over thirty students who have been selected to work at their community board as part of the MAS Planning Center’s CITI Youth program. Across the city, students like Nicole are attending their local community board meetings—projecting maps and creating presentations that correspond to the items being discussed.

Initiated in 2005, the CITI Youth program has become an integral part of many New York City community boards. From Washington Heights to Lower Manhattan, and from East New York to the South Bronx, CITI Youth interns are using technology to help facilitate the community decision-making process. Using the website CITI interns create and project maps that are used to help community board members evaluate items under review. These items can range from a liquor license application to a new housing development, a bike lane proposal, and even a block party permit. The maps are a source of objective information that helps put the board and the community-at-large on the same page.

CITI intern Nikki Li of Manhattan Community Board 3 (Lower East Side/Chinatown) has participated in the program for two years. He recently recalled an experience at his October Transportation Committee meeting where his maps were used to help the board evaluate a proposed route for a private van shuttle between Chinatown and Brooklyn. While he believed the shuttle route may be beneficial to the community because “…it decreased single commutes and may lead to less carbon emissions.” he noted that his maps “…showed that the van route was in the congested parts of Chinatown and would have to be revised.” By using maps, both Nikki and the board are able to make better informed evaluations.

CITI Youth is not your typical high school internship program. CITI interns have a front row seat to one of the most basic forms of democratic decision-making—community boards. CITI interns become immersed in neighborhood issues and therefore, become more civic-minded. The interns also learn to become quick-thinkers; their work includes making maps that anticipate community board needs, setting up equipment in unfamiliar meeting locations, and amending presentations on a moment’s notice as community discussions shift unexpectedly. The skills that they learn in the CITI Youth program are skills they will carry with them over a lifetime.

citi youth interns october 2009 workshop

Their experience at the community board is complemented with regular training and mentoring from the MAS Planning Center. Once a month, CITI interns attend professional development workshops at MAS where they learn basic map-making, presentation skills, community board processes, community organizing, and other planning-related topics. The workshops also cover some basic professional skills including, resume writing, interview preparation and even college guidance.

The CITI Youth program provides community boards with assistance while helping young people become more involved and engaged in their neighborhoods. As part of our mission to help increase public participation in planning processes, the CITI Youth program is unique because it removes many of the obstacles to youth participation in planning. By providing young people with a clearly defined role at their community board meetings, with support from adult allies, CITI interns become more confident in expressing their opinions on neighborhood issues and in their ability to create change.

This fall the MAS Planning Center welcomed a new class of CITI interns. Nicole Lugo, of Manhattan Community Board 12 (Washington Heights/Inwood), is one of our new students, and after orienting herself at her first meeting, she hit the ground running. Greeted with a warm reception from the board, Nicole projected maps that covered a wide range of items. In a single evening, she had an opportunity learn about everything from illegal construction in the neighborhood to the remodeling plans for a local cultural institution. The meeting moved at a fast pace, with Nicole meeting lots of new board members and even receiving personal career pointers from an architect presenting before the board. Having survived her first meeting Nicole gleefully describes the experience: “I got many things out of today’s meeting and hopefully I’ll get more in the future!”