University Settlement’s Jewell Campbell speaks at rally for #JustPay at New York state capitol

Jewell Campbell, University Settlement’s Director of Youth & Community Programs in Manhattan, spoke at the Rally for #JustPay at the New York state capitol in Albany.

Her complete remarks:

“My name is Jewell Campbell, and I am University Settlement’s Program Director, Youth & Community Programs in Manhattan. Across 30 locations in Brooklyn and Manhattan, University Settlement provides early childhood education, mental health and wellness, benefits assistance and eviction prevention, adult literacy and education, healthy aging, community and recreation centers, performing and visual arts, and youth development services. 

University Settlement calls on New York to 1). pass the Wage Board bill to end poverty wages and 2) increase COLA for human sector workers from 2.5% to 5% to match the amount that other subsectors received in the budget.

I’ve been working with Youth and Community Programs at University Settlement for over eight years, and I love watching our children grow from year to year. One of my favorite parts of my job is when our alumni come to visit us and retell old stories. It shows how much of a lasting impact our programs have on young people. This is one of the reasons that I am committed to this work. It saddens me to think that on some days I have to think about which bill will get paid this month; car insurance or rent. Yet in order to pay the rent, buy food, and provide for my child’s childcare, I must work another part-time job.   I work so hard to help participants whose families are at or below the poverty line, but honestly, I am not far away from that line myself.  

My program provides after school programming and academic support to elementary school students from kindergarten to fifth grade. We have students who return to our programs year after year. They get attached to our group leaders, and they get excited about next year’s group leader, just like they get excited about teachers in school. Continuity of instruction and care is important for children, and staff turnover can be upsetting for many kids who adored their group leader.  

As with so many other neighborhood-based programs, we often hire our staff from the community that we serve, and we have even hired former participants, which makes losing staff even harder. Our staff’s knowledge of and connection to the neighborhood strengthens their relationships with the students and their commitment to our program. But over the past six years, our staff has only seen wage increases of $2-3, in large part because our city and state contracts don’t cover the pay that our staff deserves.  

Over the last three years, we have lost almost half of our staff to better paying opportunities. Several of them had been with us for years, but our pay cannot compete with rising wages in the retail industry, nor can it meet the rising costs of living. It’s hard to part with wonderful staff, but it’s even harder to not be able to pay just wages to staff who have shown such dedication to our work.  

I believe that many of the staff members who left likely would have stayed if they could. But who can fault them for leaving for better pay, especially considering their jobs are part-time, during the school year, and dependent on government contracts?

Our government has shifted most of its legally mandated services to nonprofits and created massive pay disparities between the nonprofit and government sector. As the predominant funder of human services nonprofits, the government is the main driver of human services workers’ salaries. To keep our staff and provide the quality services that our neighbors deserve, we must pass the Wage Board bill and include a 5% COLA for human services workers.” 

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