Photo courtesy of George Washington Carver Center.
SkillsUSA students from the George Washington Carver Center (GWCC) in Peoria, Ill., recently organized a community service project in support of the center’s new Graduating and Parenting (GAP) program. The students all attend nearby Quest Charter Academy, but their SkillsUSA program is administrated by GWCC staff through chapter meetings at Quest during the week and at GWCC every other Saturday.
It was during a brainstorming session at one of those meetings that the students decided to focus their community service efforts on the GAP program as a way to help honor the 100th anniversary of GWCC.
The GAP program’s goal is to make achieving a high school diploma easier for teen parents by providing childcare and transportation to and from classes. It’s a collaborative effort between two local high schools and the GWCC. Volunteers transport teen parents and their children to the center, where parents take high school classes remotely while GWCC staff provide childcare. Mentors from the community are also brought in to speak to the teens about their challenges, hopes and goals.
The GWCC was planning to hold its 100th anniversary celebration, and students decided to leverage the event for their service efforts by inviting vendors to participate. Each vendor was charged a small fee that went toward funding the GAP program.
It took several months of planning to confirm the vendors, and students produced flyers that were distributed throughout the community to spread the word. The local radio station, WPNV (Peoria’s Neighborhood Voice), allowed the students to create a 30-minute podcast as part of their weekly “The Forum” program. Students also developed a PSA, and WPNV ran it several times prior to the event.
The result of the overall project was a healthy donation to the GAP program and an incredible sense of accomplishment among the participants. “SkillsUSA encourages students to learn skills that are needed in the workplace, build their resumes, and practice those skills in school and in their community,” says SkillsUSA advisor Sandra Burke. “I’m so proud of these students. They worked hard and learned so much planning for this event.”
The GAP program is an initiative SkillsUSA 10th grade student Imani Burke says she’s passionate about. “It’s something we can relate to,” says Burke. “We’re all teenagers, and we know how important it is to graduate high school, and with that, we know the cost of childcare is high, and not a lot of teen parents have the money to pay for it.”
“This was a great way to connect with the community and become a pillar of help,” adds 10th grade SkillsUSA chapter secretary Chelsea Diaz. “I think it’s amazing to see how it developed.”
According to Melissa Diaz, a ninth grade SkillsUSA community service team member, “We learned that working for something really big takes time and effort. We all felt excited and happy that our leadership made a difference.”
The vendor fair was a success, and the SkillsUSA chapter donated the proceeds to purchase educational materials for the children of the parenting teens. Some awareness-raising media attention was generated too, including a television appearance on WMBD, Central Illinois Proud.
The community service project, led by Diaz, Diaz and Burke, was presented at the SkillsUSA Illinois State Championships in Peoria. The result? A silver medal in the Community Service career competition! The value of the experience, however? That was pure gold.