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South Side Communication Center Youth Program Encourages Anything Is Possible
Every day the young people who attend the South Side Communication Center Youth Program have something different to look forward to.
That includes speakers, art class, board games, sewing or just hanging out and engaging in good conversation. During the school year, there’s tutoring and photography sessions, among other activities.
There’s one constant in it all—the encouragement that anything is possible for them.
“I want to help them expand their horizons and open their minds to different things—let them know they have choices and the ability to do and be anything they want,” says site coordinator Rachielle Scrivens.
Located on South Salina Street in the South Side of Syracuse, the year-round Youth Program is a place for young people, ages 12-18, to learn, grow and find their interests.
The South Side Communication Center developed out of the Southside Community Coalition in 2011 and Syracuse University’s then South Side Initiative. The communication center operates as a nonprofit in partnership with SCC and now with the University’s Office of Community Engagement, under the direction of Vice President for Community Engagement Bea Gonzalez.
The after school session, which runs from 3 to 7 p.m., has a tutor—a Syracuse University student who started at the center as the sewing teacher—available Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays and a host of programs in partnership with Syracuse University faculty and staff members.
Marcelle Haddix, Dean’s Associate Professor and chair of the Reading and Language Arts Center in the School of Education, works with the center on the Writing Our Lives project, a program she directs that is geared toward supporting the writing practices of urban youth within and beyond school contexts.
During the school year, the center hosts as many as five Syracuse University students who intern as part of courses they are taking, including with Associate Professor of Practice Luvenia Cowart, of the Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics. The center also partners with the Syracuse University Science and Technology Entry Program, which provides academic support services and enrichment to students in grades 7-12, including a Saturday Learning Academy.
Also continuing this fall is a photography program with graduate student Dominique Hildebrand. The South Side Collective is a class that provides the center’s students with a chance to develop their photography skills. The class last spring resulted in a gallery showing, “which was fabulous,” Scrivens says. “She’s allowing kids to see life through the lens.”
To assist in the community, students also volunteer at different locations throughout the city, such as at a Halloween party for children at a Syracuse library and at the food coop next door to the center, preparing it to get up and running.
The program’s summer session from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. is more relaxed than the after school sessions that provide tutoring during the school year, but the plan is always to encourage learning.
“They can drop in anytime. It’s a safe haven,” Scrivens says, and a family environment.
This summer Scrivens created a theme of “Me, Myself and I: Self-Awareness.”
“We talk about self-awareness, morals, values and accountability—what is your foundation and your beliefs—and just kind of keeps them focused on building their self-esteem,” Scrivens says.
The theme fit well with a recent daylong mental health workshop through Let’s Talk Inc. The presenters conducted icebreakers, a human knot team builder exercise and watched a video on why even people who may seem to be doing fine can have underlying mental health problems. “It was a way to talk about their own feelings,” Scrivens says.
Other activities this summer will include a three-day art intensive class led by Notthingham High School graduate and local artist Jaleel Campbell. “He’s going to start them out with basic drawing skills on paper and then transfer that over onto canvas,” Scrivens says.
The center has also had local business owners and tradespeople talk about their work and special presentations by such organizations as Syracuse Cure Violence, designed to reduce gun violence among Syracuse youth.
During the summer, free breakfast and lunch for the children is provided through the Syracuse City School District. Students spend time reading and keep a reading log, and some of the children have already finished a few books, Scrivens says. They also do some writing every day and are encouraged to use the encyclopedia and dictionary.
“The day’s activities depend on the mood of the group, what the kids want to do,” Scrivens says. A recent day included a movie viewing followed by a discussion about making the right choices; other days there’s board games to enjoy; a chess club taught by neighbors; and sewing classes, which run all year.
Another important component is the older students who act as mentors for the younger students. “They are more like helpers. If one of the kids is struggling with a word, they’ll step right in,” Scrivens says, helping model mentor roles for the younger kids.
During her more than two years at the center, Scrivens has seen the students move up and toward their goals, whether it’s college, trade school or straight into the workforce.
“It’s a good feeling because I think so many times these kids have seen people give up on them, or a center or an establishment closes and they are kind of lost,” Scrivens says. She appreciates being able “to watch them grow and blossom when they don’t think they can. Sometimes they just need a little push or someone to guide them and that gives me joy.”
Scrivens notes a recent sewing class in which one girl, who had never sewed before, made a pincushion and jumped excitedly up from the table when she had finished.
“It was just a great feeling, because a lot of times they don’t see that accomplishment,” Scrivens says.