HARLEM — Melisa Lugo, a young mother with two small children, found the application for the New York Urban League's Employment Services program by accident last year.
Applying for it changed her life.
"It was fate because I always wanted to get into healthcare to make a better life for my daughter," said Lugo, 21. "Being offered a second chance is important when you have a kid."
After receiving some training, Lugo is now employed as an aide in a health clinic, and she's planning to continue her education.
The New York Urban League operates two city employment centers where it runs programs to help young people acquire the skills necessary for carees in healthcare, construction and technology. But the number of people they are able to help is limited to 20 at a time.
Arva Rice, president and CEO of the New York Urban League, said she'd like to see that number increase to 200.
That goal might be possible one day if the Urban Jobs Act — which would provide federal funding to nonprofits which, like the Urban League, prepare people aged 18 to 24 for jobs — gets passed.
With the unemployment rate for African-American youth in urban areas at 39 percent, and 36 percent for Latinos, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand joined Rep. Charles Rangel and Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, on Tuesday to call for the passage of the Urban Jobs Act.
"This program would give city organizations the tools and resources they need to help our youth prepare for future jobs, find employment opportunities and reach their full potential," said Gillibrand. "The skills they would acquire through this program are invaluable. Helping our youth compete in this difficult economy will have a lasting, positive impact on our community."
Under the Urban Jobs Act, organizations would fund a holistic approach to helping young people by helping them obtain their GED or improve basic educational skills, provide job readiness training and offer job placement and mentorship programs.
"What we are talking about is reviving urban communities," said Rangel, a co-sponsor of the legislation.
It was introduced in February by Brooklyn Rep. Edolphus Towns but never made it out of committee.
Morial said that every member of Congress should be required to hear Lugo's story of how job training changed her life.
"Sometimes a little push can make a big difference," said Morial. "We can't ignore the fact that we haven't done justice when it comes to investing in our young people."
For Lugo, the benefits of getting training have stretched beyond the financial, and have reached her 5-year-old daughter and 1-year-old son.
"My daughter sees me accomplishing my goals and knows she can accomplish hers."