Ashley Marcus, 15, participated in WorkReady this summer.
Urban Affairs Coalition is one of the largest providers of the WorkReady program, an initiative of the Philadelphia Youth Network, aimed at helping low-income youth, ages 14 to 21, get paid experience in the workplace, explore careers paths, and develop skills. Citywide, 7,600 youth participated in the program this summer.
After six weeks of on-the-job experience in industries ranging in size and scope, a few hundred high school students attended the culminating WorkReady celebration at Benjamin Franklin High School earlier this week. Dr. William Hite, the superintendent of the Philadelphia School District, gave the keynote address.
“This experience is critically important because we know, and every study shows this, if you have the opportunity to work, that provides you with a leg up,” Hite told the crowd of students, some of whom were accompanied by their parents.
“Work provides you with an opportunity to learn some critically important skills,” he added.
More than 150 nonprofit and corporate partners hosted youth at their workplaces, helping them develop professional skills and understand workplace etiquette.
“Youth begin to make connections and find mentors who can provide advice and open up doors for them,” said Kate Rivera, who manages the WorkReady program at the Urban Affairs Coalition.
In addition to work, youth must also complete a comprehensive final project. At the Urban Affairs Coalition, the theme this year was violence prevention, and participants generated ideas around how to curb it. Many were on-hand at the closing event to present their work to a panel of roaming judges.
Ashley Marcus, 15, stood proudly behind her presentation materials, including a red-and-black poster that opposed gun use.
“The idea is basically around gun violence, how to stop it, and what the impact is on our communities,” she explained. As part of her campaign, Marcus developed a Twitter hashtag, #TakeTheGunApart.
“It means you have to take it apart, piece by piece, and start with the little things,” she said. Facts about gun violence scrolled across her laptop nearby. “I don’t know why people use weapons when a voice can take care of it,” she added.
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Marcus worked this summer at Eight Diamonds Townhouse Apartments, a project of the Philadelphia Housing Authority.
According to Rivera, having youth focus their projects on violence prevention gave them the opportunity to be “agents for change.”
“We know that for a lot of them, the issue of violence is something that they deal with every day,” she said. “Young people can also be the ones suggesting solutions and be a positive force in the community.”
Kamea Morris, a rising senior at Academy at Palumbo High School, compared violence in Philadelphia to the turmoil in Papua New Guinea.
“I learned that violence can be worse in other places, but I also realized that these things happen here,” she said. Morris was particularly focused on violence against women, and she passed out pocket-sized leaflets about Women in Transition, a local organization working with women in danger of abuse. “Women don’t always go to get help,” she explained.
Morris’s work experience — in the office of an accountant — also helped her think more about a career path after she graduates next year. “I felt my job was pretty important,” she said.-30-
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