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Youth and their families find a home away from home at The Village

October 5, 2012

What do the 1,800 teenagers living in Eastern North Philadelphia do in the summer when there’s no school?

Unfortunately, there are severely limited options, especially given the obstacles these young people face on a daily basis: lack of funds, working parents, and few local programs or locations where they can hang out.

“Families are looking for something local, some place near to where they are, some place they can trust, that they feel like they can own,” said Aviva Kapust, Programs Director at The Village of Arts and Humanities (aka “The Village”). In addition, some youth are alone to fend for themselves, to find something to do for 24 hours a day for an entire summer, Kapust explained. “The community and the teenagers need something to fill that void.”

The Village’s summer program provided young people a chance to build their skills, meet new friends, and contribute something positive to their community.

Thankfully, The Village, with $10,000 operating support from LISC, was able to offer 120 teens a place to be for summer 2012 free of charge. That alone is a huge accomplishment. It means young people are off the streets, doing something productive and social. It means young people are fed a nutritious meal during the day. And it means moms, dads, uncles, and grandmas can go to work with fewer worries.

“We know that public and charter schools were charging for the summer schools,” said Kapust, “and we know that in our community and in the surrounding community, the ability to pay is impossible.” In this way, summer education for children helps Eastern North Philadelphia families at the most fundamental level.

The Village of Arts and Humanities is a community-based arts organization that engages residents, especially youth, in creative placemaking, arts enrichment, vacant land management, entrepreneurship, urban farming, and various other arts and sustainability activities. They publish CRED Magazine, an arts and culture magazine that supports Philly’s young artists, designers, journalists, activists and entrepreneurs (a $5,000 grant from LISC allowed the Village to publish CRED’s first issue). And with their artist-in-residency program, they hosted Dutch artist team Haas&Hahn who, along with the Mural Arts Program, have transformed storefronts along Germantown Avenue into neighborhood-sized art.

Because The Village connects community revitalization with education and community services, the organization is a vital stakeholder in SCI Eastern North, the comprehensive community development effort in the neighborhood led by APM and LISC. Through SCI Eastern North, APM convenes and engages residents and over 50 organizations in a whole host of revitalization efforts, responding to community needs and building from neighborhood assets.

Germantown Avenue. Photo by Neal Santos.

The Village’s community-based approach means young people and their families have a home away from home, a safe space where they can be creative, try new things, meet new friends, and express themselves. “The families that do get really involved feel as though this program is theirs,” said Kapust.

In addition to offering kids something to do and somewhere to be, The Village continued offering its unique and superlative afterschool arts programming, upgraded for a summer camp schedule. “We were not just making sure there were activities, but making sure they connected to where our kids left off with their afterschool programs,” said Elizabeth Grimaldi, Executive Director at The Village.

Activities for youth age 9 to 19 began at 11 a.m. with martial arts, collaborative and mixed-media arts, and digital literacy. Nutritious lunches featuring local fruits and vegetables were provided by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. And in the afternoon, students chose two of the following in depth classes: hip hop dance with “Smart” Mark Boston; fashion design; two levels of mixed-media art; music production with Dan Thomas, a producer at Sigma Sound; digital photography; and clay arts.

 

Sure, there are few out-of-school offerings in Eastern North, but there’s really no youth arts education like this in the whole city.
Strengthening the Community Through Summer Arts

Besides offering a range of quality arts classes, the Village has focused its efforts on maximizing impact for young participants.

Jaquan Fields, a teenage student at The Village and founder of PartyClown Entertainments, offered an optional 9 to 11 a.m. daycare service that featured clown training. This provided families with a low-cost alternative ($5 per day) to leaving kids at home alone in the mornings, as well as an opportunity to support a young entrepreneur from their neighborhood.

In addition, 9 other teenagers were hired as program interns in partnership with Philadelphia Youth Network. This not only helped The Village offer better programming. It also provided youth with much-needed summer jobs and a valuable work experience. In total, about $10,000 in wages went into the pockets of these youth for their contributions.

All students were able to contribute through the program, however. The Village incorporated community-based projects into the curriculum. “They get to see things that they build, right here in Eastern North Philadelphia,” explained Grimaldi. Student projects tied the program back to SCI Eastern North and the community’s goals for improving neighborhood quality of life. For example, one class built a farm stand where community members can purchase fresh fruits and vegetables.

  

The arts program also allows young people to build emotional intelligence. This means using art to express and deal with difficult emotions and stress. It means building positive relationships with their peers and mentors. It means using new experiences to ignite fascination and explore new ways of learning. And this translates into positive changes in other areas of a child’s life: better behavior, more meaningful relationships, and success in school.

Classes are designed to foster interdependence and strengthen relationships. “They overlap – the classes rely on one another. They teach each other. This teaches them about being accountable to other people,” Grimaldi said. As a result, students stay focused and produce great work, because ultimately they want their peers to be proud of them.

In order to better understand the needs, obstacles, and potential in the area, The Village has used its out-of-school programming to build relationships with youth and their families. LISC’s support helped Village staff go door-to-door to 500 homes in the area, part of a campaign to get families with children and teens to sign up for summer arts enrichment programs.

This process of engaging parents works to build trust, strengthen ties between neighbors, and connect people with the broader community engagement and neighborhood development effort of SCI Eastern North. By directly providing much-needed, tangible resources to these families, they now have a stake in participating in neighborhood development. The Village is now organizing parents to fundraise for the summer program next year, Grimaldi said, which will help the program be more sustainable, locally rooted, and less reliant on outside funding.

 
Empowering Youth, Investing in the Future

Some 180 young people applied for the summer program, exceeding The Village’s capacity. Luckily, The Village had planned to connect Eastern North youth with any number of free summer arts enrichment programs with collaborating arts organizations nearby. This was a significant accomplishment, and yet there are still more young people left to fend for themselves after school and during the summer. There is still room for progress.

One thing is clear: this community cares about its young people. Eastern North residents highly prioritized investments in Education and Youth during the SCI Eastern North Quality of Life planning process last year. The partnership between The Village, SCI Eastern North, and LISC demonstrates that resident priorities matter. “We’re here in the community and they tell us what is needed,” said Kapust. “We listen to what our community wants and respond.”

What’s more, The Village was able to leverage LISC’s investment, multiplying the impact of these dollars in meeting neighborhood goals.

  

Looking forward, partners in SCI Eastern North are seeking more resources and opportunities to expand neighborhood opportunities for youth and create clear pathways to success in school and in finding employment. The community can build on the momentum of successful programs like The Village and use that success to attract new resources.

For example, APM was selected by the city to coordinate the Graduation Coaches Campaign in the area. The program coaches adults to help high school students reach their educational goals. By having one more caring adult focusing on their success, students will be more likely to take necessary steps to finish high school and seek out post-secondary opportunities.

Leadership development opportunities, such as the Community Connectors outreach training and the upcoming leadership academy (kicking off October 20), have also focused on getting young people from Eastern North involved.

All these efforts originate from a firm conviction that youth are a key constituency in the neighborhood. Residents remind each other often: the future success of Eastern North relies on the future of its youth.
> To learn more about The Village of Arts and Humanities’s youth arts education programs, or their land care, place-making, community-building, or youth leadership initiatives, please visit their website at http://villagearts.org/ or contact Aviva Kapust at 215-225-7830 x 206.

> For more information about SCI Eastern North, the Community Connectors, or the Leadership Academy, find (and like!) SCI Eastern North on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/scieasternnorth or visit http://www.sciphilly.org/sci-north.

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