COVID recovery means more than just vaccine or two

New Lehman College initiative lends hand to struggling Bronx groups

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The coronavirus pandemic impacted nearly every aspect of life as we know it. But with President Joe Biden committing to secure enough vaccine doses for every American, the country might be turning the corner on this once-in-a-lifetime health crisis.

But vaccinations aren’t the be all, end all of ending the pandemic. Many businesses still need to reckon with financial losses the likes of which they’ve not seen since the Great Depression.

And economic recovery might not necessarily be as easy as an inoculation or two.

But Lehman College believes it can help.

It’s called the Bronx Recovery Corps, pairing students with local non-profits or small businesses to aid in their recovery through internships, professional development and other programs hosted by the college. And best of all, these students earn college credit for taking part.

Lehman’s recovery corps program was birthed through the college’s already-existing partnership with Here to Here, a student career success program that primarily targets low-income students of color. And while career development programs are important even in the best of times, that need is much higher in the middle of a pandemic.

“The goal, really, of this program is to give students the opportunity to get some work experience in the midst of a pandemic, where it’s very hard to find work, but also giving back to organizations that because of the pandemic cannot afford extra staff right now, but still have a mission to carry out,” said Amanda Dubois-Mwake, Lehman’s community engagement director.

With nearly 40 students participating, the partner organizations are fairly wide-ranging. Some are non-profits, like The Bronx is Blooming and Cents Ability. Others are community-based organizations, like the office of Bronx borough president Ruben Diaz Jr., a Lehman graduate himself.

Raishiel Muniz scored a position at U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres’ Bronx congressional office. And while the Lehman freshman won’t start there until later this month, she has an idea of the type of work she’ll be doing there.

“I’m going to be helping the community, hopefully attending meetings (and) working on cases,” Muniz said. “I intend on becoming an immigration lawyer, and I told that to the lady who interviewed me. And she told me, ‘You could let us know if you want to work on (a) specific case.’”

Muniz already has her sights set on future goals, and working with Bronx Recovery Corps could help her achieve them.

“The way I’m looking at it, I could turn this internship into hopefully a part-time job in the future,” Muniz said. 

“That’s one way to look at it, you know: Look at the bigger picture, just hope for the best, and hopefully, new opportunities coming my way.”

For Shaquanna Thomas, the workplace isn’t as much of a mystery. The senior sociology major works for the Child Center of New York — a position she had before joining the Bronx Recovery Corps. While Thomas might not really describe herself as a joiner, she showed interest in the recovery corps right away.

“I may not get involved in everything, but I pay attention to the emails,” Thomas said. “So when something strikes my interest, I reach back out.”

Thomas might get something different out of the recovery corps program than Muniz simply because of her workplace experience. For instance, Thomas hopes to shift into more public policy-focused work than what she’s doing now, and the recovery corps can potentially assist her.

“They are able to kind of guide me with that, because I’m not really sure where to start with that,” Thomas said.

Fingers are crossed that, by fall, the city will be less fraught by the coronavirus pandemic. Yet, Dubois-Mwake still sees a future for the Bronx Recovery Corps.

“There’s always something that you can respond to,” she said. “So whether or not it’s the pandemic, or it’s some other situation that we can be focusing on in the community, there’s (going) to be like this local version of the Peace Corps. Where something is happening in the community, people know that they can count on me and students to support them.”

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