By Jourdan Harris, PACC*VISTA at Susquehanna University
You know when you were a kid and adults always told you those words of wisdom that you never believed? Like, “Time goes so much faster when you’re older – enjoy every moment now.” Or one of my personal favorites, “Don’t be in a rush to grow up – being an adult isn’t that exciting!”
Well as I started my first year serving as a PACC*AmeriCorps VISTA at Susquehanna University, I knew that the saying about the pace of change in the nonprofit world is slower causing it to be frustrating at times, but as a young, enthusiastic professional I, of course, didn’t believe it. And as you probably guessed, I was wrong… change in nonprofit work does go slow no matter how much you want it to speed up. But through this journey serving with PACC, I also learned its always worth it.
Let’s go back 463 days ago – yes I counted – to the first day of service at my project. My project is a partnership between Susquehanna University and the Regional Engagement Center in Snyder County, Pennsylvania. The Regional Engagement Center (REC) is a multigenerational community center founded in 2016 to break down barriers in a rural area and provide easily accessible resources such as positive social opportunities for youth. To better understand the need in the community, we spend a lot of time examining research such as the Pennsylvania Youth Survey (PAYS). The survey looks at 6th, 8th, 10th, and 12th graders’ behaviors, knowledge, and attitudes in regards to alcohol, tobacco, other drugs and violence. For Snyder County, the 2015 survey found that the top 3 risk factors are: student believing there isn’t a risk with drug use, having a low commitment to school, and believe their parent’s don’t care if they use drugs or alcohol. The survey also looked at protective factors that keep students from participating in drugs, alcohol or violence. Most importantly to us, the lowest protective factors for students are little school opportunity for positive social involvement and little community reward for positive social involvement. Knowing this and that only 26% of students are involved in activities in Snyder County supported the need for the Regional Engagement Center’s and the project’s focus on youth programs.
After learning about the need in the community and the mission of the REC, I was beyond excited to start working on youth programs! There was just one problem… The center wasn’t completed yet. The building, formally a church that sustained an interior fire, hadn’t even started being renovated. When I arrived, the building was striped down to its wood framing and consisted of a very large hole in the 3rd floor where the fire had been. Even with my tiny amount of knowledge on construction, I knew it was going to be awhile before the REC’s doors opened. So I spent the majority of the next year researching different youth programs, surveying the community, and meeting with other local organizations to make sure we were ready as soon as the doors opened. Through these meetings, many partnerships were developed.
That brings me to 395 days ago – no, the REC didn’t open… But we did have our first day of programming! The Teen Leadership Club was developed to reach 7th through 12th graders who are at a greater risk for engaging in drugs, alcohol, and violence. Once a week the Teen Leadership Club meets to participate in activities that will help them develop the knowledge, skills, and understanding necessary to be an effective leader. Then the Teen Leaders are given an opportunity to apply these skills in the community. The program was originally created as a way to reach local youth before the REC was open and to help shape the REC to fit what local youth felt was needed. However, over the last 395 days, the Teen Leadership Club has become so much more. Fifteen local teens have attended the program every week and have become a part of the fabric of the REC. The Teen Leaders held a book drive that collected over 700 books for the REC, participated in mentoring with Susquehanna University students, and helped develop Teen Nights and a Café at the REC through the Teen Business Innovation Zone program.
By January – 289 days ago – the Teen Leaders and I were extremely excited to here that construction has officially begun! The amount of support the center received from local businesses was beyond our greatest imagination. And just 68 days ago, construction was completed and the REC received their occupancy permit! All that was left to do was move in the donated pool tables, foosball table, air hockey table, musical instruments, board games, crafts, tables, and chairs!
And finally, 22 days ago the REC opened its doors. Since opening, the REC has offered a free after school program for students in 3rd through 12th grade. Every day, we have 30 or more local children come to the after school program to get homework assistance from Susquehanna University volunteers, play games, and just have a space after school. The Teen Leadership Club hosted their first Teen Night in which 25 teens came to play games, paint pumpkins, and watch Halloween movies. The Teen Leaders also opened their Teen Business Innovation Zone project, the Café, to sell snack and drinks during the after school program while developing an understand of how a small business runs, learning different soft job skills and using their leadership skills.
As the REC gets more established, we hope to expand the resources that can be offered to the community. The REC’s dream plans include a summer camp, a preschool, a food pantry, cooking classes, fitness classes, and health and wellness classes through a partnership with local hospitals. And so while yes I was wrong, you can’t speed things up no matter how much you try, I also learned that sometimes that ok. Through the last 463 days, the REC has recreated a foundation for a successful future that I couldn’t be more thankful to be a part of through PACC*AmeriCorps and Susquehanna University. With my remaining 267 days, I look forward to learning more words of wisdom that indeed are true and seeing the REC continue to impact the community in great ways.
Welcome to the CCNYPA*VISTA Blog, written for VISTAs, by VISTAs!