The New Jewish Home’s SkillSpring program is changing young people’s lives while also addressing the growing need for healthcare professionals. 

Sixteen years ago, The New Jewish Home founded the Geriatrics Career Development Program, recently renamed SkillSpring. The program provides young people from under-resourced communities with increased career opportunities, while also addressing the acute need for healthcare professionals to serve older adults. We spoke with Nicole Cash, Program Director, to learn more about SkillSpring and how she became involved in this important work.

What is your background?

My passion has always been helping young people succeed, and my background is in education, counseling, and social work. I began my career in special education and then worked with community-based organizations including being a Director of the Path to College Success at Children’s Aid, and as a Job Readiness Instructor at Federated Employment Guidance Services.

Why did you join The New Jewish Home team?

The goals of SkillSpring were aligned with my commitment to helping young people believe in themselves. I was also intrigued by the intergenerational aspect of connecting older adults with teens. 

Can you explain a little about how the program works?

We help young people see what is possible for their lives, set goals, and achieve them, while also training them for jobs in health care. Many of our students have real challenges. We don’t minimize their struggles, but help them to look past these challenges, provide tools and training, and connect them with the resources they need to succeed. Students graduate as either Certified Nursing Assistants or with other allied health certifications. 

As part of the program, students interact with residents at The New Jewish Home, often receiving mentorship and guidance from them, while learning valuable career skills. At the same time, they provide our residents with companionship and an opportunity to mentor young people. Both sides get so much out of the experience. 

SkillSpring offers two programs, one for high school students and one for young adults. What is the difference?

Yes, we offer two programs and support to alumni from both. The High School Program, which spans three years, works with teenagers from our ten partner schools. Many of these students are the first in their families to even dream about going to college, and we help them get there. Ninety-nine percent of the graduates go on to higher education, many choosing careers in health care.     

The Young Adult Program helps young people, ages 18 – 24, who are disconnected from school to begin careers in health care as Certified Nursing Assistants. Often, these young adults face housing and food insecurity and need childcare resources. We work with partner organizations, like the Stanley M. Isaacs Neighborhood Center, to help them overcome these challenges. At the end of the three-month program, they are offered employment through The New Jewish Home.

Your success rates speak for themselves, with 91% of the over 1,000 graduates being employed and/or enrolled in post-secondary education. Why do you think SkillSpring is so successful?

We choose participants carefully, based on their commitment and ability to make meaningful connections with older adults. The schools and the community-based organizations we work with are vital to our success, and we have great support from Dr. Jeffrey Farber, President and CEO of The New Jewish Home. 

Part of the magic is our staff. I always involve SkillSpring students in the interview process, so they have a voice in selecting staff, and I look for empathy and compassion in all new hires. I believe that in our work representation matters. It is so important for participants to see people of color in roles that they can aspire to.

What are your goals for the program?

We have many more qualified applicants than slots in our program and we would love to be able to accept everyone who is interested. Recently, we received a grant from the Heckscher Foundation for Children and added The Hebrew Home at Riverdale by RiverSpring Living as a partner, which has been amazing. Next, our goal is to expand to more skilled nursing facilities throughout the five boroughs so we can provide more opportunities to young people, while helping to fill the demand for healthcare workers.

The New Jewish Home’s SkillSpring program (formerly known as the Geriatrics Career Development program) has helped teens and young adults in New York City pursue careers in health care since 2006. Program participants are immersed in long-term care settings and provide more than 8,000 hours of companionship and clinical care to older adults each year.

Alumni from our SkillSpring program have access to resources from our Alumni program to help them meet academic and career goals. Learn more about our high school program and our young adult program.