Youth Center Celebrates Success

How does a Philly teen who’s in foster care, homeless or otherwise at risk beat the odds and stay on track with career training?

Some would answer, “it takes a village.” True enough. But ECS would add, “it takes a new approach.”

On April 12, the shape, progress and success of that approach — built around re-framing the past and re-thinking the future — were showcased as the Saturday youth group unveiled their marketing projects. Seeing Youth Succeed, their new name, was chalked in bright, bold lettering on the blackboard that dominates their space and was graphically represented in their new logo. Homelessness, an issue they know well, was the focus of their just-completed, hard-hitting documentary.

“It’s project-based learning,” explains Arley Styer, who is directing the program. “Even though they have thought partners, the kids drive the process, and it’s very effective. The goal is to build critical thinking, teamwork and leadership.”

Some of the city’s top creative agencies provided advice and encouragement for this year’s projects. Said Ryan Overhiser, a copywriter at Allen & Gerritsen and one of the first guest speakers, “They seemed refreshed after we talked, like they were ready to dive headfirst and practice some of the thinking we shared with them.” Similarly positive, Robby Fernandez, CEO of Moxie Pictures and a speaker near the end of the projects, said, “You could easily see how enthusiastic and passionate they were about film. I was quite impressed by their desire to get as much information and knowledge as possible.”

Other speakers were “Que” Gaskins from Que-in, Leticia Whitsett from Tierney Agency, Ben Harrison from 160 over 90 and Caitlin Vivian from Allen & Gerritsen. Rick Boyko, who was director and professor at the VCU Brandcenter and spent many years with top ad agencies, Leo Burnett, Chiat/Day and Ogilvy & Mather, provided ongoing and inspiring consultation.

A second $100,000 grant from the Caroline Alexander Buck Foundation is helping to fuel success of SYS and, in fact, the Youth Center as a whole. Just last year the foundation awarded its first $100,000 grant to ECS for expansion of a pilot program then known as Teens Takin’ Over. It started as a workshop series for about 40 teens, ages 14 to 18, in other ECS programs. However, now the Youth Center offers individualized employment preparation to about 100 youth, up to age 23.

What’s perhaps most notable is that the Youth Center is supporting kids over 18 just when other programs stop. Research shows that older at-risk kids often get discouraged and drop out of college or career training. So they require an intensive assessment and training program to develop the necessary skills and resources for sustainable employment and financial stability.

“We’ve hit a niche,” says Dave Griffith. “We don’t know of another city agency using our experiential, cognitive therapy approach, and the older youth are coming in droves.”

To benchmark success, the University of Pennsylvania, Temple University and Drexel University have partnered with ECS to determine clear goals and outcomes. That accomplished, ECS is now quantifying the concrete, positive effects of the program.