Let’s face it; Connecticut is experiencing a funk. No, that’s not a song; it’s a condition of economic and social malaise that permeates every corner of what once was the “provision” state. Our former economic engines of banking, insurance, and manufacturing have largely moved elsewhere and our young people are following.

While one can lament the departure of such businesses, they can be replaced. What cannot be replaced is the imagination and intelligence of today’s “lost” generation that, if given the opportunity, could reinvent Connecticut’s social fabric and financial economy. We believe a new public/private partnership proposal provides a clear path forward.

A Connecticut philanthropist, Alva Greenberg, is establishing a demonstration program called Serve Here CT that offers a way to reduce academic debt, provide meaningful employment, and replace cynicism with belief that Connecticut’s economic system can still work. The program will match qualified applicants between the ages of 18 and 29 with jobs in municipal and the not-for-profit arena. Further, it offers economic incentives to both employers and employees.

How will it work? With private philanthropic support underwriting 70 percent of the initiative, Serve Here CT will provide a registered employer with a $10,000 grant toward the first-year salary of an
accepted Serve Here CT applicant. If that young person successfully completes the year of employment, as well as an educational seminar, he or she will receive $10,000 toward either college debt reduction or credit toward future educational expenses. Serve Here CT is intended to be a five-year pilot program enrolling 15 participants each year.

State Sen. Steve Cassano agrees that the time for change is overdue. Cassano has introduced Senate Bill No. 632, An Act Creating a Public-Private Partnership between Public Institutions of Higher Education and the Serve Here Connecticut Initiative. If this concept successfully moves through the labyrinth of the state legislature, then the promise of a brighter future for Connecticut’s youth in Connecticut and not elsewhere can be fostered. “Serve Here CT” is a catalyst for change.

If successful, “Serve Here CT’ will be a new resource in stemming the flow of talented young people out of Connecticut. It will be a tool for generating meaningful, full-time work for those unemployed or underemployed, and it will be a generator of increased tax revenue that significantly exceeds the initial outlay of resources to support the program. It will also provide support for the state’s nonprofits who continue to struggle in the wake of the recent recession.

The Project on Student Debt says that presently, the typical Connecticut college graduate leaves school with more than $20,000 in college debt; that debt often exceeds $40,000 if the student attended a private school. According to the American Student Assistance organization, there is $1 trillion in American student loans. The majority of these graduates are either unemployed or underemployed, and nearly 40 percent have moved back home.

We urge the legislature to pass Senate Bill 632. If this proposal succeeds, we will have enabled young adults to gain control over their lives and to instill a spirit of civic involvement into the ethos of what it means to be from Connecticut.

Tom Gullotta is an adviser for Serve Here CT

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