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Grant helps Say Yes expand internships for students

Say Yes Buffalo is taking on an expanded role – helping students get a foot into the workforce.

The nonprofit that ensures free college tuition for graduates of Buffalo public and charter schools who enroll in a state college or university was awarded a $250,000 grant from the Citi Foundation to help provide internships to Say Yes students.

That wasn’t in the original scope of work for Say Yes when it was first launched here in 2012, but it’s become a vital piece of the puzzle, said David Rust, the executive director for Say Yes Buffalo.

This past year, Say Yes partnered with 43 local organizations to provide paid summer internships to 52 of its college students.

“The No. 1 phone call we receive from our Say Yes scholars, which there’s around 2,800 at any given point in time, is ‘Can you help me with paid work experience and summer internships?’ ” Rust said.

“We’ve talked a lot about high school completion, college completion, but one of the real end games is employment in this community and helping to meet some of that skills gap we have in the Western New York region,” Rust said. “So there’s a lot of reasons to do this. It’s really important.”

The funding from Citi Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Citibank, will expand those opportunities by paying for internships at nonprofits and public institutions that typically don’t have the resources to provide those summer jobs, Rust said.

In fact, this is the second time Citi Foundation has awarded a quarter-million dollars to help Say Yes connect youth with employment opportunities, as part of a foundation initiative focused on career readiness.

The last round of funding from Citi Foundation was awarded in 2017. This new round will last Say Yes through to early 2020, Rust said.

Fourteen local groups applied for the grant, but “Say Yes was just far and away the best for us as an option,” said Robin Wolfgang, a spokeswoman for Citi in Buffalo.

Say Yes made the announcement Tuesday at SUNY Buffalo State, which has enrolled hundreds of Say Yes students, like Jean Michel Jr.

The senior criminal justice major took part in the Say Yes internship program with Erie County Court Judge Susan Eagan, and now he’s thinking about law as a career.

“I was interested in the law, but I didn’t know I wanted to go to law school until after the internship,” said Michel, 21.

“In fact,” Michel said, “I took my LSATs last weekend.”

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