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.
The children and families of New Kensington and Arnold have been touched by a number of social problems, including high unemployment rates. The causes of unemployment are multifaceted, and helping one gain employment requires a comprehensive approach. In response to this particular need in the community, Sonward developed the Career Readiness Program.
In order to enroll in the Career Readiness Program, children ages 12-18 must fill out an application, and attend a formal interview. For approximately eight weeks, each Program participant attends a four-hour long weekly session, at which various topics are discussed. The value of hard work, interviewing skills, teamwork, and respect for authority are just a few of the lessons learned. Included in each week‘s session are team building activities and a service project. The service project gives the participants an opportunity to put into practice what he or she has learned in the lesson. In addition, every participant works as an intern throughout the week for 10 hours at Sonward’s summer day program. During a child’s time in the Career Readiness program, he or she is mentored by Sonward staff. This is extremely beneficial, as they are given the opportunity to learn hands-on, what it looks like to be a desirable employee.
Sonward aims to build a community where people feel understood, and safe to share their points of view. The Career Readiness Program offers participants the opportunity to do this at every session. Each week, the participants share what their high and low points of the past week were. At the end of every session, participants are encouraged to self-reflect, and share with the group what they are proud about, and what they are sorry about for that day. Also, participants are provided a free lunch every week, where they are able to build relationship. At the end of the Program, participants are sent to a summer camp called Citikidz summer camp for a week, free of charge, as a reward for successful completion of the Program.
The Career Readiness Program addresses all aspects of obtaining and maintaining employment in today’s workforce. The skills and experience gained from the Program will serve each participant and the community for years to come.
It is always a miracle to witness how picking up a paintbrush can calm down a busy child. Art is powerful and healing and can change lives. At Sonward, we have the privilege of witnessing these healing moments regularly. Art brings order to the chaos that many of these children live in. Their projects give us an opportunity to affirm and encourage them, sometimes its the only encouragement they hear. What a privilege we have to see how art reaches kids the world has given up on.
Sonward kids during Powerzone club on Tuesdays are working through the Young Peacemakers curriculum. They are learning how to communicate with eachother in a respectful way to prevent bullying and fighting in the community and the school. We are all responsible for our own choices. Our responses to things are our own choice. We can make the choice to get a long with people even when they are mean to us. We can respond calmly and kindly even when another person is out of control. Sonward kids are learning to look for the best in other people and find peaceful ways to interact with others.
Powerzone meets every Tuesday from 4-5:30pm at 601 5th Ave., New Kensington, PA (The United Presbyterian Church)
Call 7243374021 or email email@example.com for more information.
The Hope Garden is well underway for 2016. More about this to come!
The kids at Sonward were surprised when I gave each group a tube a toothpaste and told them to squeeze it all out as fast as they could! They were excited as each group got all of the toothpaste out of their tubes. THEN, they were given the real challenge… “Get all the toothpaste back in the tube with a toothpick in 10 minutes or less.” They tried, they complained, they struggled, they laughed, they got covered with toothpaste. No matter what they did, they could not get the toothpaste back in the tube.
Then we talked about words. Words we’ve heard and said that were hurtful. We made a list of these words and labeled them “toothpaste words.” You see, once words are said, you can’t take them back. Someone may forgive you, but they will never forget the hurtful things you’ve said. No matter how hard you try, you cannot make up for the things that you say that are unkind. So, now at Sonward, we are practicing how to THINK before we speak. T = Is it TRUE? H = Is it HELPFUL? I = Is it INSPIRING? N = Is it NECESSARY? K = Is it KIND?
If these children can learn this lesson in K – 6th grade that we need to use our words to be kind and encourage others instead of tearing each other down, then they will be a step ahead of many adults and forces of change in the school and the community. Please keep praying for us as we seek to change this community one child, one family at a time… over and over again.
Hands covered in toothpaste after learning that once it comes out of the tube, you cannot get it back in, just like our mean words.
Kim Louis, Director – Sonward Youth Programs