CareerWise Greater Buffalo

“Sometimes making the choice between college and work isn’t truly a choice if you have to go to work to earn money to support yourself and your family,” said David Rust, Chief Executive Officer of Say Yes Buffalo.

In September 2022, Say Yes Buffalo addressed this issue by launching CareerWise Greater Buffalo. A strategy of the Greater Buffalo Racial Equity Roundtable’s Youth Employment Coalition, this initiative is designed to provide career pathways for youth ages 16 to 24 that lead to family-sustaining incomes.

“The ultimate goal of CareerWise Greater Buffalo is to connect students who need immediate access to the workforce to secure career pathways,” said Daphne Ross, Chief Impact Officer at Say Yes Buffalo, who was overseeing CareerWise Greater Buffalo in 2022.

Those pathways are created through modern youth apprenticeships in which youth from Buffalo Public Schools “earn while they learn” at several local employers. During the three-year program, apprentices are trained alongside seasoned professionals in fields such as information technology and financial services. All the while, they are still supported by Say Yes Buffalo through a dedicated success coach.

The impact was felt immediately by students like Damion Brown, a 2022 graduate of Hutchinson Central Technical High School, who is now an apprentice in M&T Bank’s accounts payable department.

“This opportunity is major. I have never seen wages like these and the fact that I’m learning on top of it is just unbelievable,” said Damion, who hopes to eventually earn a degree and enough money so his mom can retire. “I have learned time management skills and enjoy processing invoices – it’s never boring.”

As a participating employer, M&T empowers Damion by setting objectives and pairing him up with a mentor and a “buddy” at work, while CareerWise supports him in other ways.

“Damion will learn about four different areas of finance and then hopefully he’ll want to stay with us,” said Donette Czyrny, Senior Financial Manager at M&T and Damion’s hiring manager. “Additionally, CareerWise has provided seminars on email and phone etiquette. The support system is incredible.”

With 25 youths participating in the 2022 cohort of CareerWise Greater Buffalo, the goal is to double that number every year until it reaches 600 students each year. That impact will have a ripple effect on the entire community.

“We are filling a gap between a talented workforce from Buffalo Public Schools and some businesses that have not always had the ability to reach those students,” Daphne explained. “It is going to change the makeup of these workplaces to make them more diverse and more inclusive. It will ultimately make our region better.”

This story is featured in our 2022 Annual Report.