New Kensington, Pennsylvania was once a bustling business district, as it significantly contributed to the growth of the manufacturing of aluminum in the United States. The decline of the local steel industry and Alcoa sent the community into economic shock, however, which has led New Kensington, along with its adjacent neighborhood, Arnold, to be the two neighborhoods with the highest poverty rates in Westmoreland County. Sonward Youth Programs was developed to empower families and help alleviate the burden that children, who live in these under-resourced communities, must bear every day. In 2011, Sonward Youth Programs opened its doors for the first time to facilitate a week-long soccer camp. Since then, Sonward has added numerous programs, and a second site to serve the children and families of New Kensington and Arnold.
Sonward’s second site was launched in September 2017, and attendance is growing weekly. Kathleen Swartzwelder, who is the leader of Sonward’s second site said, “We have only been open for about 3 weeks, but there is a girl named Emma who loves it so much already, and one of her prayer request was that she could go to the program everyday. They all seem to be having a great time so far.”
Sonward staff members understand that it takes every member of a community to truly change a community. This is why collaboration with community organizations is a cornerstone of how Sonward operates. Sonward’s second site meets at The River (200 Freeport Rd. New Kensington, PA 15068), a community church, every Wednesday from 5:00-8:00 p.m. Free tutoring for all ages is offered from 5:00-6:00 p.m., then dinner from 6:00-6:30 p.m. After dinner, three Bible study programs are offered simultaneously; adult Bible study, River’s Edge Youth Group (7th-12th grade), and Sonward (PreK-6th Grade).
Swartzwelder’s hope for Sonward ‘s second site is “For the kids to form friendships, have fun, and enjoy themselves, and for the staff to teach the children as much as we can about Jesus.” Having a second site allows for more children to be impacted by the services that Sonward provides. These services not only meet children’s’ immediate needs, but will also serve them for years to come.