Making minorities economically self-reliant is the National Urban League's mission. Theresa Sanders is charged with carrying out that mission locally as the head of the Urban League of Long Island.
The local chapter dates back to 1972, when World War II Tuskegee Airmen employed at Grumman Corp. decided to do something about the limited number of jobs and career-advancement opportunities for minorities on the Island.
Sanders, who has led the chapter since 1997, says it has helped train and find jobs for hundreds of teens who have participated in its summer and after-school programs. The group also has adult workforce development programs.
But reduced government funding and increased competition for corporate support have made her job more challenging. This comes even as the need for training has never been greater because of stubbornly high unemployment, especially among African-American teens.
Do you serve all minorities?
We target African-Americans. But we include anyone who has a need, anybody who is falling outside of the mainstream. We have veterans. We get homemakers who are trying to go back to work. Single moms . . . My working-class, blue-collar workers, they are looking for tutors for their kids. They are looking to get their kids to the next level just like anybody else. So they have no shame in enrolling their kids in the Urban League.
Is it more difficult to vie for private donations than for public dollars?
[Competition for government funding] is very transparent. Its guidelines are public. You know what you have to do, and anybody can compete. The competition for private money is much more closed, and you have no recourse if you don't get it. Who you know is paramount. Long Island is very closed and [corporate executives] run in all the same circles.
African-American teens have the highest unemployment rate of any group -- 35.1 percent in September, U.S. labor statistics show. Why is it so high?
It all goes back to your K- through-12 preparation. A lot of the courses don't teach soft skills anymore. So we are not teaching interviewing skills and dress-for-success skills . . . typing. Schools are being evaluated based on test performance. So a lot of the soft-skills stuff, those are the courses that I don't see a lot of. And if you don't have somebody at home teaching you that, where are you going to learn it?
Should the government do more to boost employment?
Yes, because I do believe that the reason we have government in place is to take care of those that are at highest risks: our elderly, our poor, our children. That is the government's responsibility to create that safety net. The government has to play a leadership role. But outside of taking a lead, the responsibility then falls on each community to create the support mechanisms that create people that are employable . . . the school districts, the parents, the churches.
NAME: Theresa Sanders, president and chief executive of the Hempstead-based Urban League of Long Island
WHAT IT DOES: The nonprofit provides job training, education support and job opportunities for teens and adults
STAFF: Two full-time employees and six to seven seasonal workers for after-school and summer programs
BUDGET: About $500,000