Blueprints Youth Empowerment Program

 

Chester, PA, once an industrial powerhouse, has experienced considerable economic decline. The latest U.S. Census Bureau data show that median household income is $27,365 in Chester, compared with the median county household income of $65,123. Nearly 35 percent of residents live in poverty.

In spite of these factors, Chester is a close-knit community with many multigenerational families who have a strong sense of community pride. Nevertheless, poverty has given rise to a host of socioeconomic problems in the city – including high crime rates, failing schools and substance abuse – hitting youth especially hard. Without support from caring adults, young people are more likely to become involved in crime, engage in risky behavior and not finish high school. In 2014-15, the four-year high school graduation rate in the Chester Upland School District was about 51 percent compared with 85 percent for the state.

BLUEPRINTS: Assuring a Brighter Future for Chester’s Youth

To help young people successfully transition to adulthood, the Crozer-Keystone Community Foundation joined forces with Swarthmore College, the Chester school district and the College Access Center of Delaware County to support a year-round youth development program called Blueprints. With federal and local dollars, Blueprints served a cohort of 40 students from 8th grade through high school graduation with one or more research-identified risk factors for dropping out. The program’s goal was to build protective factors to reduce risk-taking behavior among the young people served.

The program’s impact was impressive. Just wrapping up its third funding cycle, 100 percent of all participants in the most recent cohort graduated from high school, and 100 percent were college-bound. Our challenge in the last year of funding from the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey is to plan for a revamped College Access Center beyond the Blueprints program.

Blueprint’s Partners

Blueprints partners worked collaboratively to deliver the program over a period of five years.  Each of the program’s partners offered a different set of services. Swarthmore College offered tutoring and cultural enrichment with a focus on African and African-American culture. The foundation provided leadership training and community service, workforce skill-building and coordination of daily programming, trips and special events. The College Access Center provides career and college preparation services. These include assistance with college exploration and college applications, college admission test preparation, financial aid workshops for parents, and college survival skills for the students. The school district provided data for program evaluation.

Every student participated an average of 500 hours a year. This high intensity of programming each year for five years resulted in significant positive outcomes for the students. The core program was delivered after school three days a week during the school year and twice a month on Saturdays. A four-week summer camp program met three days a week in July, and was supplemented by a summer work experience program in July and August for interested students.

For parents and students alike, Blueprints has been a game changer. “He went from Ds and Cs to As,” one parent said. “I’ve never seen a program like this in my life that would just take my son and mold him into the man he is today. I don’t have to worry about him.”

One student attributed the program’s remarkable record of success to its staff. “The word failure doesn’t exist in the Blueprints Program,” the student said. “Staff members were born and raised in this community and had to overcome the same challenges as us. If they can do it, so can we.”

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