For the third year running, The Child Center of NY’s WIA program, managed by Eric Torres, received an “Excellent” PQMT rating by the New York City Department of Youth and Community Development. The PQMT, or Program Quality Monitoring Tool, measures programs in eight key areas, from “Administrative Requirements” to “Program Content.” Torres, who became director of WIA in December of 2012, has been working hard to change the direction of the program and meet the needs of the students. WIA, from the Workforce Investment Act of 1998, aimed to increase occupational skills, employment, retention, and earnings for individuals in or potentially in the workforce. WIA is currently transitioning to WIOA, after the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act signed a year ago.
According to Torres, DYCD each year raises its standards, so that he and others in similar positions have had to adjust several times to meet or exceed the changing requirements. Since Torres took the position, The Child Center’s afterschool WIA program has been rated seven times. The ratings received were, in this order: Fair, Fair, Good, Excellent, Excellent, and Excellent, with the seventh recently-conducted rating pending. Torres’ program is one of three to receive three Excellent ratings, and one of only two that received three in a row. DYCD has also increased over the years the number of students Torres’ program serves, from 50 to 70 to 100 and now to 110 students. Those students participate in the program at three schools: in Elmhurst, South Ozone Park, and Far Rockaway.
“Now in college and reflecting on what I benefited from the WIA program makes me feel proud of all I did during this program. In ways I gained many leadership skills that I did not know I had,” said alum Franchesca Arecy, currently attending SUNY New Paltz on a scholarship. “For our service learning projects, we had to come up with what we were going to do as community service for the semester. I always found myself pitching ideas right away. I loved speaking out loud and sharing all of my ideas and also hearing those of my peers. There were many times when I was recognized by all of the staff, and that is when I really started realizing all that I was capable of.”
Torres explained the changes he implemented to achieve the Excellent PQMT ratings. “First we began by developing new internship opportunities for students in various sectors. We have improved on our case management by hiring more effective staff, we have expanded to different schools and built relationships with students and partnerships with administration. We’ve focused overall on changing the quality of services we provide for our students,” he said.
Of note also is that The Child Center’s WIA program is one of the only programs evaluated that actually procures internship opportunities for its students, with over 40 different sites in sectors such as medical, retail, animal care, child care, law, and business.
And Torres is fully invested.
“I’m connected to these kids because I grew up in similar circumstances, so I put my personal feeling into it,” he said.
Clearly, that investment is returning dividends for The Child Center’s career-oriented students. As Arecy put it, “WIA showed me that even if I come from a low-income background, I still had the opportunity of living that independent life I have always wanted and attending college at the same time… which has made a really big change in my life.”