Members of YouthBuild, accompanied by other volunteers worked to renovate the Penrose Community Center on Jan. 17.
Hands-on learning was epitomized at the Penrose Community Center last week, as volunteers from YouthBuild and Temple Community Gardens worked to refurbish the center.
Located at 11th Street and Susquehanna Avenue, the community center revamping was part of a day of service for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but the community service was not a one-time thing for group members.
“We look at service as empowerment,” Grace Cannon, the YouthBuild director of curriculum and instruction, said as she shouted to speak over the sound of power tools. “These students are marginalized from systems and schools, and we want to provide for them the wherewithal and self-advocacy to move forward.”
Hilary Magio is a full-time member of Americorps, who works with the YouthBuild program.
“Myself and another member started to facilitate the event four months ago,” Magio said. “We’ve done a lot – installed two computer stations, a new media shelf for their projector.”
YouthBuild is a national program for high-school dropouts that allows them to not only earn their diploma, but gain valuable job training and skills. The program was established in Philadelphia 17 years ago and became recognized as a charter school 12 years ago.
“The Philly YouthBuild is the largest in the country,” Cannon said. “We have over 200 students but receive over 1000 applicants, which really speaks to the need for quality education programs.”
Starting at 9 a.m., YouthBuild students, organizers and volunteers from TCG began their work as part of their Martin Luther King Jr. Day of service, which included other events throughout the city.
“This is a good school,” Ashley Miles, a YouthBuild student, said. “Out of all the schools I’ve been to, it’s a better environment because you can focus on your education rather than fighting and drama.”
TCG has worked with Penrose for a year and a half, building educational programs centered around food and gardening.
Sara Sutsko, a junior music theory major and TCG event coordinator, saidthat because community involvement is a big part of what TCG does, it made sense to help out. She added TCG is planning to build a new fence around the garden at Penrose with YouthBuild in the spring.
“We wanted to do something for our kids in return for all the joy they bring us,” Sutsko said. “During the cleanup, we organized and sorted through the books in the library and did general cleaning. YouthBuild was painting the walls and installing shelves in the corners for future greenery and building computer stations. By the time we were done, everything was spic and span and beautiful.”
The day of service counted toward the 675-service hours required of YouthBuild students. Cannon said the core vocational skills facilitated are designed to service the community, such as construction rehabilitation and a nursing program with the elderly.
Cannon credited the students with the work.
“We have skilled students,” Cannon said. “Half the time, especially with this construction, they’re teaching stuff to us and we’re holding them up.”
But the day wasn’t all work; it ended with a game of kickball in the snow.
“That was a lot of fun,” Sutsko said. “Big kids versus little kids – needless to say we lost, miserably.”
Kara Savidge can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.