Crozer-Keystone Wellness Center’s Programs Are Transitioning Youth from Participants into Employees
From left to right are Jamar Pyatt, Joy Clark, Nafis Nichols and Deitra Sewell.
- Crozer Wellness Center provides school- and community-based youth leadership programs for Chester youth ages 5 to 21, as well as medical care.
- Youth leadership programs offered by the Wellness Center focus on building leadership, workforce skills and life skills in general.
- One quarter of the staff for Crozer Wellness Center’s youth development programs are former program participants.
Community leadership is the calling for several past participants of Crozer-Keystone’s Wellness Center. Their enthusiasm brought them to the Wellness Center as young people. Now they work for the Wellness Center, paving the way of motivation and opportunity for today’s participants.
The Wellness Center, based at Community Hospital, has several out-of-school youth programs, but the common thread among all of them is youth leadership. After taking part in extensive training, Wellness Center participants are placed in high-profile leadership positions throughout Chester as peer educators, mentors or community advocates. One of the core values of the Wellness Center’s programs is adult-youth partnership. Participants who stay with the program for several years have opportunities to take on increased responsibilities, including assisting the Center’s adult staff in operating the program as well as interacting with adults throughout the community. For some, these experiences spark interest in youth development as a career. Therefore, it is not surprising that several alumni of the Wellness Center’s programs have graduated from high school, completed college and returned to work at the Center.
Kate Blackburn, administrative director for the Wellness Center, takes pride in the fact that over 30 percent of her full-time staff members are past program participants. “Our former participants compete well in interviews for our positions because they’ve learned the program and administration aspects from the inside. When they interview we already know their professional capabilities and strengths,” Blackburn says. “The fact that over a quarter of our staff members are former participants is definitely a milestone to recognize and celebrate.”
- First affiliated with the Crozer Wellness Center as a 6th grade student via the Peer Leader Program, where high school students present life skills workshops to middle school students.
- Became a Peer Leader as a 10th grader at Chester High School Academy and remained in the program through graduation in 2003.
- Worked in various Crozer departments throughout college at Delaware State University via an internship program for Wellness Center alumni.
- Offered a part-time job as a Program Assistant during his junior year with the Chester Youth Collaborative, a city-wide initiative led by the Wellness Center that focuses on increasing the number and quality of opportunities for Chester youth (ages 12-22) so that youth can transition successfully to adulthood.
- Promoted to full-time position within the Chester Youth Collaborative as a Program Supervisor in 2008.
- Became the Senior Program Coordinator for the Wellness Center’s Drug-Free Communities initiative in 2009.
What brought Nichols back to work for the Wellness Center? His answer is simple: he never left. “Opportunities kept presenting themselves at the Wellness Center,” he says. “I was offered other jobs outside of Crozer, but the Wellness Center always seemed like home.”
Nichols enjoys making a positive impact on the community through his work and takes pride in proving to Chester youth that there are opportunities in the neighborhood and ways to be successful. In five to 10 years, Nichols plans on opening and successfully running a business in Chester. He wants to provide young professionals with the opportunity to work in a field that interests them after college and give back to the community by hosting high school students as interns to be exposed to corporate careers.
- First affiliated with the Wellness Center in 6th grade when the Peer Leader Program came to her classroom.
- Participated in the Wellness Center’s Rites of Passage program all through 8th grade, a program emphasizing African and African-American culture and life skills.
- Became a Peer Leader in 10th grade at Chester High School and remained in the program through graduation in 2004.
- Worked at various Crozer departments through college at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania via an internship program for Wellness Center alumni.
- Helped to establish and launch the Chester Youth Council in 2006. The Chester Youth Council is a part of the Chester Youth Collaborative. It is made up of young people (ages 12-22) who work to change perceptions of and about Chester youth and who inspire civic engagement among other youth in the community.
- Awarded a part-time job in 2008 as a Program Supervisor in the Crozer Mentoring Program, a program that matches Chester Upland School District high school student mentors with Columbus Elementary School mentees.
- Transferred to a full-time position in the department in 2009, taking on the role of Program Supervisor in the Chester Youth Collaborative.
Sewell recalls becoming familiar with the Wellness Center during her middle school years. “I loved the Peer Leader Program because it taught me a lot about myself and how to react in uncomfortable situations. Rites of Passage taught me about my culture and how to move into adulthood. I knew I wanted to get more involved with the Wellness Center when I got to high school,” she says.
Sewell credits the Wellness Center with helping her become the person she is today. She says she’ll always be thankful to the Wellness Center for giving her chances to develop humility, a broader view of life and a professional outlook and manner. She says, “The Wellness Center has been like family to me, and being able to come through their programs and now become a staff member just shows how much they are vested in the well-being and the overall positive outcomes of Chester youth.”
In the future, Sewell sees herself as a lobbyist for youth rights, programs and program funding.
- Joined the Wellness Center in 2002 by becoming a Peer Leader while in 10th grade at Village Charter School.
- Worked at Crozer as an intern during her breaks from Elizabeth City State University until her graduation in 2008.
- Became a part-time staff member in 2008, working as a Program Supervisor in the Crozer Mentoring Program.
- Simultaneously worked part time as a Program Supervisor in the Wellness Center’s Blueprints program, an after-school program that focuses on academics, youth leadership, culture and career development.
- Position made full-time in 2009.
“I gained a tremendous amount of leadership and professional skills through the Peer Leader Program,” Clark says.
As a Crozer intern, Clark worked in several different departments (including Security, Marketing and Human Resources), refining her professional skill set. She says she appreciates the professional experiences she’s had and sees great things in her future with the Wellness Center. “I’d eventually like to be a Program Coordinator for one of our outstanding, award-winning programs,” she says.
Beyond this goal, Clark sees herself furthering her education by attending graduate school for Urban Studies.
- Became affiliated with the Wellness Center via the Peer Leader Program while in 6th grade.
- Became a Peer Leader in 11th grade while attending Chester High School and remained involved through high school graduation in 2003.
- Remained connected to the Wellness Center while attending college via Wellness Center alumni activities.
- Joined staff in 2008 as a Program Supervisor for the Blueprints program.
Pyatt says he stayed involved with the Wellness Center because it is “an atmosphere that’s positive for youth development.” By working with current Peer Leaders, Pyatt hopes to create a strong workforce experience for participants, giving back what the Wellness Center has embedded in him. In the future, he hopes to establish a career in marketing/management while maintaining a role in the continued efforts of improving the quality of life for youth in Chester.
In addition to the four former participants now on staff, the Wellness Center also hosts former participants as interns. During the 2008/2009 academic year, Shintele Malloy completed the required internship for her bachelor’s of Social Work degree from Delaware State University, and she graduated in May. Bryndaisha White (Lincoln University), Chardae Davis (Cheyney University), Jashina Miller (Temple University) and Jameel Cleveland (Howard University) are all connected to the Wellness Center through an internship established by CKHS for alumni of Wellness Center programs.
Some interns work exclusively on Wellness Center initiatives, while others work in Crozer departments such as Public Relations and Marketing, Risk Management, Social Work and Women and Children’s Health Services. All interns spend at least a portion of their time at the Wellness Center for supervision and to remain connected to current participants by attending meetings, chaperoning trips and assisting with special events.
“When we opened the Wellness Center 13 years ago I never would have imagined that young people sitting in classrooms listening to our peer educators would eventually be my colleagues,” Blackburn says. “When it comes to youth leadership development, we don’t just talk the talk, we walk the walk. And I’m proud to be walking alongside such a dynamic group of young professionals.”
For more information about the Wellness Center, call (610) 497-7422.