In 2015, Syracuse, NY, ranked the highest, out of the 100 largest cities in the nation for concentrated poverty among African-American and Latino populations. A significant portion of those in trouble were young people. Just a few years ago, in 2018, 44% of Syracuse youth were living below the poverty line. With youth poverty comes youth crime, which leads to youth recidivism rates, ultimately perpetuating the same tragic cycles for these communities. The hard work of disrupting these cycles is on the ground–meeting the youth where they are, and the Good Life Youth Foundation (GLYF) does just that.
Founded in 2012 by Hasan Stephens, GLYF uses mentorship, hip hop culture and other art forms to teach life skills, financial literacy and entrepreneurship, while creating a healthy space for young members of the community to grow. Stephens’ vision was born from a love of community, hip-hop, entrepreneurship, and a passion for helping kids. Syracuse University, and many talented, driven students have also helped bring his vision to life. Good Life deserves a lot of credit for not only helping three of the poorest areas of Syracuse decrease their youth recidivism rates by 30% between 2013 and 2017, but also inspiring and connecting countless young people with the means and mentors to pursue entrepreneurial goals and maintain a sense of positive productivity.
Director of Operations for Good Life and former Syracuse University student, Ryan Williams, is in an excellent position to directly help his community, and feels a strong sense of purpose in the city that helped shape him. “I believe students, especially those who are a part of community service organizations like myself, play an essential role on the ground towards ensuring invested University resources are connected and sustainably implemented to community entities that most need them,” says Williams.
Williams didn’t have the most conventional path to his current position at Good Life. He attended Falk College for an education in Nutrition Dietetics. However, this early interest in nutrition and health ignited a passion for public health and policy which, in many ways, is exactly the framework within which he is working now. Moreover, Williams credits the Blackstone Launchpad with his success on his current career path. “It was at Blackstone, in building a student start-up, that I learned that education is not limited to the walls of the classroom. Through ideation sessions, pitch competitions, and elite mentorship I was exposed to faculty, students, and resources across the university,” says Williams, “Professionals such as Linda Hartsock, saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself; made me feel seen, heard, and valuable. This is the essence of the work I do at the Good Life Youth Foundation and as a Business Consultant in the community. I seek to inspire and coach the leaders of tomorrow how to overcome environmental boundaries and offer the greatest versions of themselves.”
Williams’s personal commitment to those leadership values–and Good Life more broadly–has made a powerful impact on Syracuse University iSchool student Heer Thaker, who was among the first interns for the organization. “It was Good Life’s first experience and Ryan was very well prepared. He was sure what they wanted from us and there was clear communication about why we were hired, what our roles were, and what they expected from us,” said Thaker, “I really enjoyed working in Good Life because it was the kind of place that really valued your presence, and you knew you were being heard.”
Thaker had already received her Bachelor of Technology in Instrumentation and Control from Nirma University in India. In 2020, she decided to enroll in the iSchool because of its world-renowned reputation. Despite being unsure whether she belonged in data analytics or information management when she first came to the iSchool in 2020, she found that the supportive faculty were well suited to help her find her path. Furthermore, her experience at Good Life helped her to gain skills and knowledge integral to her major, and future career.
She says, “Coming from another country, it was really important for me to meet new people, but in-person classes got canceled due to the pandemic so I wasn’t actually meeting professors and classmates. Good Life gave me that chance. They also gave me a good combination of the management side and the data side, and I strongly believed in their mission and what they were doing for society.”
Thaker led an entire team of interns when she started at Good Life. She found herself immediately learning and coaching and managing all at the same time, but the challenges all had rewarding upsides. Thaker believes that it was really good for her to have so much responsibility, opportunity, and professional exposure, while also working for such a grounded and socially conscious organization. They placed a lot of trust in her and she felt empowered to execute on her capabilities.
Working at an organization founded to build confidence and leadership skills in community youth, Thaker realizes that her experience working there had much the same impact on her. Through her time with Good Life, she discovered that she is actually quite good at managing people and is proficient at project management. As such, she was prepared when her next opportunity was an internship at Tesla.
Thaker reflects on the choices she made at the iSchool. She is certain that all of the classes she chose, professors she’d met, and her experience at Good Life, had prepared her for the size and scope of working at Tesla. She was able to enter that workspace with confidence in her knowledge and ability. Thaker looks back at it this way, “I got into a lot of Universities, but the curriculum that Syracuse offers is amazing. They have both tracks, the management side, but also the data science side. It really helps in deciding which path to take with my career.” With her internship at Tesla complete, Thaker accepted a full time position in NYC with a financial software company.
The ongoing partnership between the iSchool and the Good Life Youth Foundation delivers mutual benefits time and again. “Since 2020, the Good Life Foundation has been fortunate enough to have over 10 interns from the iSchool, and these interns directly contribute to our organization’s ability to engage in more insightful, data-driven decision making,” says Williams. These insights allow the foundation to not only better serve the youth with thoughtful and robust programming, but also provide the tools needed to better secure and sustain funding; the lifeblood of any non-profit. The technical skills learned in the classrooms combined with the experiences in organizations like GLYF are what give iSchool students the unique ability, as Williams says, “to build a more connected world, one system at a time.”