Graduation rate for Providence Center’s teen mentors is 100 percent

By George Gregory
Special to The CS&T

PHILADELPHIA – In 1993, changing demographics in the Fairhill and Kensington sections of North Philadelphia prompted the Archdiocese to close three local parishes: St. Edward the Confessor, St. Bonaventure and St. Henry. As crime and violence increased in the area, the Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus who had staffed St. Edward School established the Providence Center to fill in the void that was left in the neighborhood.

Today the facility offers English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction, safe learning environments and after school programs for area youths, support groups, neighborhood retreats, connections to local resources and a leadership development program for teen mentors.

The center’s teen mentoring program aims to reduce the number of teenagers who drop out of high school. This is accomplished by encouraging attendance, academic achievement and involvement in high school studies and activities; nurturing an interest in and facilitating access to post high school studies; teaching accountability and skills for a successful work experience; and providing an hourly wage for significant after school projects. {{more}}

“This program is not only a short-time experience, but rather an effort to help shape these teens into better people in the future,” said Gloria Rodriguez-Soto, who is the director of the program.

It brings high school students age 15 to 18 to work with small groups of children in kindergarten to sixth grade. The mentors work with their group throughout the school year, assisting them with homework and tutoring. They also supervise enrichment classes and field trips with their groups.

Most mentoring teenagers are bilingual and come from a similar background as the children they are helping. They prepare their groups for a monthly presentation and are responsible for tracking the children’s progress.

In addition to their work with the younger students, the mentors visit college campuses and training schools, and former mentors share their college experiences with the present mentors.

“The program definitely increases the mentors’ involvement with their own education,” said Bethany Welch, executive director of the Providence Center. “It gives them support and encouragement to achieve academic success and inspires them to think about their own goals in life.”

The graduation rate for the teen mentors is 100 percent, and most go on to attend a college or vocational school after graduation.

“I came here knowing very little about life, and every day I leave here knowing more,” said Paola Lopez, 15, who is a parishioner of St. Veronica Parish and a sophomore at Mercy Vocational Catholic High School in Philadelphia. “It is such a necessity for these students to have role models, and I am inspired every day.”

For most of the teens working in the program, the mentoring program is their first actual job, and it makes them feel a sense of value and independence to earn their own money, while at the same time enriching their local community.

“Working at the Providence Center as a youth mentor is an amazing opportunity, and it is a great way for teens like myself to help educate and become involved with the young people of the neighborhood,” said Crystal Martinez, 16, a member of Visitation B.V.M. Parish and a sophomore at Little Flower Catholic High School for Girls in Philadelphia.

For Rodriguez-Soto, the mentors exemplify the desire to give back to the community.

“They are so willing and eager to try new things in the field in which they are working, and it is gratifying to see students like Crystal who were once mentored in the program become mentors themselves,” she said.

George Gregory is a parishioner of St. Cecilia Parish in Coatesville.