Leidy Torres used to be ashamed to tell her story.
At 16 years old, she lived in a Philadelphia homeless shelter after she immigrated from the Dominican Republic. That’s when her social worker mentioned the Achieving Independence Center.
The center on Broad Street near Master offers free services like counseling, vocational training and educational support to young people between the ages of 14 and 21 as they prepare to leave the foster care system. Torres, a junior psychology major, has been one of the center’s 750 annual clients since 2013 and said its services were instrumental in her academic career.
She worked there as a tutor and peer mentor from February 2015 to July 2016 and hopes to do similar work as a school counselor in the future.
“Without AIC … I would’ve always just stayed quiet and gone through life like, ‘OK this happened to me and I’m never going to think about it,’” Torres said. “But now it’s like, ‘No, this is what happened and let me tell you all about it.’ AIC has helped me not be ashamed of what happened to me, but rather to use my story as something that can help somebody else.”
Since AIC was founded in the 1980s, the College of Public Health’s Center for Social Policy & Community Development has offered free educational support there, like classes and academic advising. Six Temple students are volunteering at AIC through the Next Steps AmeriCorps Program, an initiative that develops undergraduate students’ leadership skills through peer mentoring, workshops and community service.
Harold Brooks, an employee in the Center for Social Policy & Community Development, became the educational services coordinator at AIC in 1994.
Every June, he helps organize a ceremony in Mitten Hall to celebrate the high school graduation of AIC clients who he watched grow up.
“I’ve just developed a love for the struggle that they have been through and a love for the resilience that most of them have,” Brooks said. “They’ve experienced things that are probably unimaginable to the majority of us, you know, family separation, homelessness, near starvation, separation from siblings, sexual abuse, verbal abuse. You name it, they’ve experienced it.”
Brooks said he’s always impressed by the Temple students who have worked for AIC.
“Over the years they’ve been sensitive, they’ve been nonjudgmental and they have given 200 percent in their desire to help these kids get up to speed academically,” he added.
Ivy Meacham, a junior human development, community engagement and Africology major, started volunteering at AIC as a resource assistant in January 2016. She spends 25 hours a week meeting with members in one-on-one sessions to help them with subjects like algebra, writing and history.
Meacham said she connects with AIC members by sharing her passion for the arts and always offering a non-judgemental ear.
“This place has definitely shaped me as a person,” Meacham said. “I think it has definitely humbled me more to look at certain things that I just take for granted sometimes, like our parents may piss us off or whatever, but there are people’s parents who genuinely just walked out of their lives.”
“[At AIC,] you can openly talk about your experiences without feeling ashamed of being in foster care or being any type of any of the emotions that come from the stigma that surrounds being in foster care,” Torres said.
Carr Henry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.