Teen summer program wins heartfelt, rave reviews

Participants effusive in praise for Coatesville Youth Initiative’s ServiceCorps

By Kathleen Brady Shea, Managing Editor, The Times

ServiceCorps graduates Ron Jay Jones (left) and Noah Willett linger after the ceremony for protracted farewells.

The teen’s former bosses could barely believe what they were reading: The boy who had just excelled during an eight-week job at the Brandywine YMCA had considered seeking reassignment because working with kids gave him pause.

The revelation that Noah Willett opted to tough it out was one of numerous positive surprises that surfaced during the graduation program for Summer ServiceCorps, an intensive program of the Coatesville Youth Initiative that combines paid employment with a life and leadership curriculum and a day of volunteer service.

“I’m stunned,” said Graham Smialowski, the Y’s youth program director, as he read from Willett’s journal, which was prominently displayed. “I never saw any sign of that.”

Smialowski was so taken aback that he shared the entry with his colleague, Shannon O’Donnell, the Y’s school-age child-care coordinator. Not only did Willett never offer a clue that he wasn’t thrilled with his assignment, he did such a superior job that the Y hopes to continue the partnership, both supervisors said.

“Keeping him at the Y is definitely a benefit for us,” Smialowski said.

Graduate Sam Brown promises to stay in contact with Laura Hatrock, one of his mentors at Handi-Crafters.

From nearly 150 applicants, Willett was one of about 40 teens from 14 to 18 dispersed among more than a dozen local job sites, where employers agreed to serve as bosses as well as mentors. The teens’ triumphs, measured by their own words as well as their supervisors’, lent a festive air to last night’s ceremony at the Downingtown County Club.

“Tonight we get to celebrate the young people,” said Chaya Scott, who directs the Coatesville Youth Initiative, extending thanks to all of the partners who helped make the program possible.

An enthusiastic audience that included the graduates’ parents, employers, community activists, and board members of the Brandywine Health Foundation, the umbrella organization for the Coatesville Youth Initiative, heard from program staffers as well as some of the teens.

The emcee for the graduates’ portion of the program was Sam Brown, a 17-year-old who appeared poised to pursue a career in stand-up comedy, especially when he launched into an introduction for a person “very special to me,” transferred the microphone to his other hand, and began talking about his summer experience.

Like Willett, Brown said he was queasy about his assignment at Handi-Crafters, an employment service for individuals with disabilities. But his fears that the regimen might be boring proved unfounded, he said. “I started to love going to work,” he said. The reason? Seeing the smiles on the faces of employees who were thrilled to have their jobs “touched my heart,” he said.

Graham Smialowski from the Brandywine YMCA peruses one of the journals on display at the ServiceCorps graduation.

Brown elicited laughs of disbelief when he revealed a hidden personality trait: “Some people may not know this, but I was shy once.”

Other graduates elaborated on that theme, expressing gratitude for the boost in self-confidence the program provided.

In addition to working at places such as Brandywine Hospital, Regency Park Apartments, Graystone Society, Coatesville City Hall, and the Brandywine Valley Association, the teens also completed ServiceCorps coursework, bonding with mentors, staff, and each other in the process.

Jordan Crans, director of the Bridge Academy and Community Center and a veteran ServiceCorps host, said she would highly recommend the program. Besides providing her with assistance for the academy’s summer learning program, it helped the teens learn the complexities of running such a program.

“Initially, they thought: ‘We’re just going to play with the kids all day,’” Crans said. “And while they did do plenty of that, they also helped clean, organize, prepare lesson plans, and set up crafts.”

Samaria S. Turner gives the ServiceCorps program an enthusiastic thumbs-up.

For some graduates, the ceremony marked the end of more than a summer opportunity.

“Sadly, I officially aged out of the program,” said Jessica Locker, who is heading to college. “I was truly blessed to be chosen.”

Locker, who said the program released her from a “turtle shell,” stressed its lasting impact. The graduates then demonstrated that sentiment as they left the ceremony, stopping every few seconds for more rounds of photos, tearful embraces, and vows to keep in touch.

Imani Gilliam, the ServiceCorps program coordinator, exchanged some of the most difficult farewells since she is leaving her part-time post after two summers to pursue full-time work.

“I will definitely be back in some capacity,” she said. “This is just too special.”


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  1. Smarty Pants says:

    psst…Samaria…2033 is not an election year…plus you’ll only be 33 years old…you’ll have to wait until 2036..lol

  2. JarvB says:

    Samaria, you got my vote!

  3. samaria s. turner says:

    This is such a great youth program and it has been an honor to get the chance to participate these last two summers.Not just to have the working experience but the life lessons and skills, and the way we all come together as a family. It’s just phenominal. I encourage people to apply for this program next summer and really experience what you’ve been hearing. It builds character and a healthier living. If you ask anyone who has participated before they’ll say “it changed me for the better” and it has changed me for good!- samaria s. turner “director” and future president

  4. KBS2012 says:

    If you continue on such a positive path, you won’t have difficulty getting votes!

  5. samaria turner says:

    Samaria s. Turner is so awesome …..oh that’s me but uhhhh….vote me for president of the united states in the year 2033

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