There are currently nine College Opportunity to Prepare for Employment (COPE) campuses throughout CUNY, each focusing on aiding students overcome obstacles that would otherwise keep them from taking advantage of the full college experience by assisting them in finding employment during and after their college careers. At the College of Staten Island, COPE—located in Building 1A, Room 109—helps 40 to 50 CSI students per semester not only get hired but prepares them for opportunities that can very well change their lives.
The CSI COPE program, under the Division of Student Affairs and funded by The Human Resources Administration of the City of New York, provides support and information for students who are receiving public assistance. COPE does this by providing referrals to work study, internships, and work experience; informational seminars to keep students informed of public assistance requirements; and job preparation, placement, and follow up. The aid does not stop there, however, as additional services such as help with registration and obtaining childcare, as well as tutoring and academic and personal counseling, are also available to students who qualify.
Harriet Giapoutzis, Director of the CSI COPE program puts her job simply, “We try to help them survive the hardest part of their lives,” she said of the responsibility that COPE has in supporting its students. “We try to make it easier for them.” she continued. “COPE is the liaison between the student and the various agencies they must deal with while attending college. We provide them with public assistance, help make appointments for them, register for aid, we even get them appropriate business attire so they can go on job interviews—whatever it takes.”
While the focus of COPE is to get its students employed, each student’s goals and needs are different so the staff must adjust its approach depending on who they are assisting. Kimbra Smith, a current CSI nursing student and mother of two young girls, feels she “owes much to the COPE program.”
Kimbra had been unemployed for eight months when she made the decision to return to school full time. Although she knew it would not be easy, she wanted to “provide a better life for my daughters and show them what can be achieved once you set goals for yourself.” Unfortunately, she was ill-prepared for how difficult returning to school would really be. Within one year of returning to school, her unemployment benefits ended and she lost her home, car, and ended up in a homeless shelter for ten days. “It was the worst experience of my life,” she said of that dark period. “I knew the only way for me to avoid ever going through this type of experience again; I had to finish what I started and finally earn my degree.”
Through the Welfare to Work program, Kimbra managed to be enrolled in the CSI COPE program and was lucky enough to have the opportunity to work on the same campus where she attended classes. “It’s through the COPE program that I found my current job working part time as a customer service representative at Con Edison, and they have provided me with Metro Cards to assist me with commuting to work.”
Kimbra’s is only one of many heartfelt and encouraging stories that highlight how the COPE program can have a positive effect on a struggling student’s life. CSI’s focus on community outreach is evident through its various programs that offer support to residents of the Island, regardless of whether or not they are CSI students, but it is heartwarming to know that programs exist to assist members of the CSI campus community who are struggling, one that lets them know there is light at the end of the tunnel.