In this week’s Partner Spotlight, we are excited to feature a short interview with Gaspar Caro, Coordinator for the Lower East Side Employment Network (LESEN).
What led you to a career working with youth?
Growing up in NYC with immigrant parents from troubled Latin America, and a physician father who worked in low-income, southside Williamsburg for thirty years, my (older) sister and I were sensitive to social justice issues pretty early. Youth work sparked when I was a young teenager myself and tagged along with her to tutor at an East Harlem youth center. I liked it and through high school and college volunteered as a tutor, mentor, and teacher’s assistant for community service and school credit. Over the years and since graduating college in 2005 I went in and out of youth work, but my fundamental career goal was to serve people in need. I was an Academic Liaison at El Puente in Williamsburg, a Policy Associate at Vera Institute’s Center for Youth Justice, and, after a hiatus in community engagement with StoryCorps, returned to serving youth (and all adults, generally) with LESEN.
What do you see as the biggest challenge in connecting youth to jobs?
The labor market positions people as the “product” in supply and demand, and the challenge is that people are unpredictable. I think young people are even more so – one of our pithy leaders calls them “bouncy” – because they are rapidly growing, learning, developing in complex ways, behaving variably. It can be hard to track them into hiring processes and employment with institutions that naturally are structured, fixed, and operational. There is a lot of brain science to frame this youth bounciness in a helpful way – it can even be a major asset. Compare two of our earliest youth hires with the same retailer: one was a top candidate but walked off the job during his first week; another was seen as so-so but four years later is with the same company and has been promoted twice. Unmentioned is the sea of gray area in between these examples.
What has been one of your proudest moments as LESEN Coordinator?
One proudest moment as Coordinator is my proudest for LESEN. After several years of hard work behind the scenes and even before my time, pushing to do something new in workforce development – collaborative employer engagement – in 2015 we started to build momentum and scale. This included recognition from the public policy and workforce development communities where JobsFirstNYC crucially highlighted our efforts in a few reports. JobsFirstNYC’s release of our very own Innovations in the Field report was a particularly great moment for us, fortifying the sense that we were really building something lasting and worthwhile. But my proudest individual moment was placing a candidate from one of our family shelters as a well-paid Building Superintendent with an included apartment. We were all grateful and proud when he moved out of the shelter with his family for the job, and four years later he is still housed and well-loved there.
Gaspar Caro joined LESEN as Coordinator in March 2012 and previously worked in youth justice, public policy research, and community engagement partnerships with El Puente Leadership Center, Vera Institute of Justice, and StoryCorps. He received his B.A. in English from Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT.