DHS News June 2013
KEYS Welcomes a New
Class of Recruits
Helen Wachter has a binder, nearly two inches thick, of
pictures and text that document community projects completed through the
Americorps Knowledge to Empower Youth to Success (KEYS) program in the past six
There are mitten and book drives. Public gardens and murals.
Assisting at the Rainbow Kitchen food
pantry. Gathering pillows and pajamas for homeless children. Collecting and
counting pennies for Children’s Hospital. KEYS members have wrapped up hundreds
more in the 17 years that Helen has been director of the program, which is administered
by the DHS Office of Community Service, Bureau of Family and Community
All KEYS projects center around youth in economically disadvantaged
communities. KEYS members tutor, mentor and encourage them to also participate
in public service. But KEYS members and the communities benefit in many ways as
well, say the members, administrators and program partners.
Although KEYS is a year-round program, it has a large summer
component. This year, 64 members, mostly
college students or recent graduates, will serve with KEYS from late May to
mid-August, assisting in everything from playground programs to tutoring. Their
participation is “from soup to nuts,” Helen says. “Design through
implementation. You’re a project manager and you’re interacting with multiple
groups: Kids, site managers, the community.”
|AmeriCorps members help prepare a community
garden in Allentown.
“One of the things that defines us as a program is leading
service projects,” she added, emphasizing the word “lead.” “We never go in and
say, ‘This is what you need.’ Members do research. They go in teams to the
community to see what its assets are” as well as working collaboratively to
discover needs and how to address them. “They know their community before they
step foot in it.”
KEYS members serve at 40 host agencies. Those include Mt.
Ararat Baptist Church in Larimer; the borough of Braddock; the Girl Scouts,
Goodwill of Southwestern Pennsylvania; and the Methodist Union of Social
Summer members receive two weeks of orientation and training,
based at the Human Services Building, Downtown. Sessions include conflict resolution; mandated
reporting, safety; mentoring; bullying prevention training -- even a ropes
course for team-building held at Camp Guyasuta in Sharpsburg.
“KEYS is fantastic,” said Sandy Kiefer, Director of Academic
Support Services for the Crossroads Foundation, who attended a meet-and-greet on
May 30. The program helps low-income, non-Catholic students succeed at the
region’s Catholic High Schools. KEYS members tutor students at the 17 Catholic
schools that feed into six high schools. “The members that we’ve had have been
a sheer delight,” said Sandy. “Very, very good. They are open to suggestions
and constructive ideas. We’ve benefited, but they have also benefited.”
Summer KEYS members make $3,202 for their commitment of
about 40 hours a week for 11 weeks. This
year, they will be in service from May 28 to Aug. 15. They may also receive an
additional $1,468 post-service education award.
The reasons members give for participating in KEYS vary, but
most profess dedication to public and human services. “Some say, ‘I love the idea of helping
people,’” said Aaron Gray, assistant KEYS program director, in explaining why
people aspire to serve with KEYS. “Some say, ‘I’m going into ‘X,’ but I want to
do this and give back while I can.”
Shanai Sloan of Highland Park, a senior psychology major at
Chatham University, is a KEYS member for the first time. She said she enjoyed
the orientation and training. She is assigned to the DHS summer food program.
“It wasn’t what I was expecting, but in a good way. It’s interactive. Everyone
is very relatable. I wasn’t expecting that,” Shanai said.
KEYS is funded by the Corporation for National Community
Service. For fiscal 2012-13, DHS received $1.2 million in federal funding for
the year that ends Aug. 30. With required matching funds from participating
sites, the KEYS budget totals $1.7 million.
“For many of our members, this is their first job,” Helen
said. “Businesses want experience. We give them that. They can develop the
passion for education, working with youth, their life’s work.”
DHS News Newsletter
DHS News Archive