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July, 2019

Local Teens Served by Growing NCSSS Partnership

By John H. Tucker

Anthony Lewis, president of Washington, D.C., Verizon, addresses participants of Youth Leadership Academy.
This summer The Catholic University of America played host to a six-week youth leadership camp, extending the university’s growing relationship with Brookland Manor, a local government-subsidized apartment complex in Northeast Washington, D.C.

The camp, titled Youth Leadership Academy (YLA), brought 48 local teenagers from low-income backgrounds, including several Brookland Manor residents, to campus daily for activities teaching effective social, business, and technology-related life skills. Participants, aged 14-15, were offered motivational talks, computer and writing workshops, theater and résumé-building sessions, and field trips.

The camp at Catholic University marks the first time YLA, a nine-year-old program created by the National Center of Urban Technology (NCUT) and currently operating in several other U.S. cities, has been offered in Washington, D.C.

The New York-based NCUT, founded by CUA alumna Pat Bransford, used a $200,000 U.S. Department of Education grant to fund the summer camp at CUA. The Brookland Manor community and CUA’s National Catholic School of Social Service served as additional co-sponsors.
 

James Zabora

NCSSS staff member Jeanne Chamberlin served as YLA project coordinator.

An Aug. 10 address to participants by Anthony Lewis, president of Washington, D.C., Verizon, culminated the YLA program at Catholic University. During his address, Lewis spoke to the audience about the importance of education, helping others and allowing others to help them.

The president of the telecommunications company, who said he grew up without a phone in his house, began his speech by asking all members of the audience to turn their cell phones on.

“I love to hear the sound of ringing phones,” joked Lewis. “Better yet, snap my picture and e-mail it to me.” A former musician, Lewis also gave his listeners a computer-aided drum demonstration to underscore the expanse of technology and the importance of having more than one focus in life.

The summer camp marks the latest in a series of cooperative projects undertaken by Catholic University and Brookland Manor, says NCSSS Dean James Zabora, who developed a relationship with administrators of the 535-unit apartment complex after meeting one of its owners more than two years ago. The two agreed a relationship had much to offer the residents of Brookland Manor and scholars at CUA.

“To paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, some of the most vulnerable populations live adjacent to islands of academic excellence,” Zabora says. “My belief is that an institution such as CUA should have an active partnership with the community that surrounds us. Brookland Manor has welcomed us, and we have joined together to address issues such as at-risk youth and unemployment.”

Currently, two NCSSS graduates hired as CUA project coordinators are stationed at Brookland Manor, where their salaries are partially subsidized by the housing complex. Last year, CUA staff member Laurie Chenowith oversaw a job-training project for chronically unemployed Brookland Manor residents that eventually guided 18 of 21 participants to steady jobs. One participant has since been promoted to evening manager at a local Giant Foods grocery store.

Zabora currently is working with Brookland Manor to draft a strategic plan to build on their current initiatives and ensure the relationship between university and apartment complex extends well into the future.

The relationship has become an interdisciplinary one as well. Last year, CUA’s School of Library and Information Science used a $15,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education to send students to the housing development to play with young children in ways that promote literacy and the parent-child relationship. According to Zabora, 60 percent of Brookland Manor residents have literacy problems, “which is significantly related to their employability, which is at the top of the list in terms of issues we’re attacking.” 

CUA played an additional role in the YLA summer camp by conducting an evaluation study that tracked participants’ attitudes and skill levels throughout the course of the program. Michaela Farber, assistant professor and director of the National Research Center for Child and Family Services at NCSSS, is heading the study, co-funded by NCSSS and NUTC.

“We administered participant surveys, debriefed program facilitators, and questioned parents and community leaders to measure a variety of components,” explains Zabora. “For example, we were able to measure levels of anger and problem-solving among the youths. Many of these teens tend to act impulsively when they’re confronted with difficult situations, and we want to understand if this program can affect the way they resolve their conflicts.” Zabora and Farber hope to submit the study findings for future publication.

YLA participants were recruited through the D.C. Department of Employment Services. Because the YLA camp at Catholic University was linked to a professional study, the teenagers were compensated for their participation.

“We look at this as a summer job and a life-learning experience,” notes Zabora. “They’re helping us by giving us a lot of feedback about what youths need to be successful in life.”

 

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