Shaniqua’s story is the fourth in a bi-weekly series to showcase the impact proceeds from the Saint Paul’s Rummage Sale have made in Philadelphia. For more information on the outreach work at Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church in Chestnut Hill, please contact Shara Dunham, Outreach Coordinator.
“I didn’t come from a squeaky clean background. I used to be in foster care. Up until I was 18, I was living with people I knew, like family, but I still wasn’t at home. I didn’t have the right guidance…You can live in a messed up house, but you have to do what you have to do … to help yourself.” Shaniqua, like many of the teens in the Seeing Youth Succeed Program run by Episcopal Community Services, had experienced both poverty and a broken home.
ECS’ Seeing Youth Succeed program (SYS) provides leadership development and employment preparation through a variety of hands-on projects, activities and workshops. It combines project-based learning, cognitive-behavioral therapy and vocational assessments for some of the city’s most under-resourced youth, aiming to break the cycle of poverty.
Shaniqua was referred to the program by her cousin nearly three years ago. “[SYS] offers you a lot. It helps you get what you want with your future. You’re surrounded by people that actually care about your opinion, so it makes you want to keep coming back. It makes you strive for more.”
This past year, students worked together to produce a documentary on an issue they feel passionately about. They chose homelessness. Shaniqua said, “We called different shelters and spoke to different people to find out their life story…It taught us to be thankful for what we have, even if you don’t have a lot, because a lot of people don’t have anything.”
Unlike the typical educational setting, SYS is youth-centered and youth-driven, giving the participants a voice in the decision-making process for activities they will take part in. “They don’t force you to do anything you don’t want to do,” Shaniqua says. “Of course there are rules, but rules you should know, like don’t say things to people you wouldn’t want said to you. I wouldn’t even consider it rules – it’s just stuff you should know.”