At ServiceCorps, community growth is personal growth

39 Coatesville Youth Initiative students recognized for their service

By Kyle Carrozza, Staff Writer, The Times

Sam Brown, winner of the Harry Lewis Scholarship, congratulates his fellow ServiceCorp members.

Sam Brown, winner of the Harry Lewis Scholarship, congratulates his fellow ServiceCorps members.

COATESVILLE – Community improvement is a two-way street; deeds done by community members improve the world around them, and, in turn, the act of completing those deeds allows the individuals to grow as well.

The Coatesville Youth Initiative (CYI) ServiceCorps Recognition Ceremony, held at the Downingtown Country Club, commemorated this growth on Monday night.

For the past eight weeks, 39 CYI members have worked at various sites throughout the area, including painting a mural at the Bridge Academy, growing organic vegetables at Waste Oil Management Inc. in Modena, and shelving books and working with children at the Coatesville Public Library. Monday night gave them a chance to  share reflections on how those experiences changed them.

“The ServiceCorps program was a chance to learn life and leadership skills, but we all learned so much more,” said Nelson Negron.

Negron spent his summer working as a youth counselor at the Brandywine YMCA. At the beginning of his experience, he felt that the counselors he was working with saw him as a volunteer, someone trying to coast by. Not content with this role, he switched to another group of children, where his coworkers recognized his full potential. He said that the experience opened him up as a person and forced him to recognize his own abilities.

Samaria Turner shows off her certificate of completion.

Samaria Turner shows off her certificate of completion.

“Without the Coatesville Youth Initiative Service Program, I don’t know where I’d be as a person,” he said.

With CYI member Ryan Leahan as the evening’s energetic emcee, many other students shared similar stories of personal growth.

Maria Co said that working with the ServiceCorps challenged her more than she ever expected and prepared her for challenges in the future. Zyonna Boykin said that when she first applied, she was just looking for a job. Eventually, her work experiences made her more punctual, taught her to respect people with jobs that are often overlooked  – and by Monday night –  gave her a new perspective on her surroundings.

“It allowed me to see Coatesville in a different view. I’ve made friends with people I thought I’d never talk to,” she said.

The element of personal growth was not lost on CYI and Brandywine Health Foundation administration.

“We want young people to grow, learn, and create social change,” said Mena Badros, CYI’s program coordinator.

Along with the projects that have resulted in 27,361 hours of service over the past four years, CYI aims to teach members how to become more responsible and more involved citizens in the community.

Throughout the year, the conducted workshops on skills for adulthood, such as balancing a budget, prioritizing tasks, and maintaining physical and mental health. They also focus on larger goals such as assessing community needs, planning service projects, and deciphering mixed messages in the media.

“When they came into the program, many of them didn’t have bank accounts,” said CYI Director Chaya Scott. “But as the program goes on, there are changes in conversation and responsibility.”

ServiceCorp members lead the room in a chant proclaiming themselves future leaders.

ServiceCorp members lead the room in a chant proclaiming themselves future leaders.

She said that students begin understanding the value of money, for example. She also observes changes in the way they talk to their parents as they become more responsible.

“I have the best job in the world,” said Scott. “I get a chance to develop our future leaders.”

The chance to claim responsibility as community members and individuals seemed to spark a desire in many of the members to continue to increase their roles in the world and change their surroundings.

“The Coatesville Youth Initiative allows us to believe that our changes can be as great as we want them to be,” said member Aja Thompson.

Sam Brown, a 12th-grader who rose to the position of associate coordinator, wants to continue his growth as a person by staying involved with the program.

“The ServiceCorps helped me establish morals I can carry with me,” he said.

Winner of the Harry Lewis Scholarship, an award that goes to someone dedicated to the community, Brown said that he hopes to stay involved in the program and help it expand to reach more young people even as he attends Millersville University next year.

This shared sense of responsibility may explain why CYI members kept referring to themselves as a family.

Between giving out awards for the funniest, most huggable, and most inseparable members, CYI participants made Monday night seem like a family reunion, punctuated by the  giggles of inside jokes and the adrenaline-inducing chants proclaiming themselves future leaders.

“We understand that you have a blood family, but sometimes you need an extended support system,” said Scott.

In the coming year, the CYI will become an independent organization; while it will still be a top priority to the Brandywine Health Foundation, it will be a separate entity. CEO and President of the Brandywine Health Foundation Frances Sheehan said that she does not know what to expect, but she has “completely faith they’re going to do a good job.”

Scott agreed. The aspirations for the program seemed to reflect the aspirations of Monday night’s graduates.

“We’re not sure what the future holds, but there’s so much opportunity for us to grow,” Scott said.

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