Mantua: Young Writers Reach Out in the Community

Trenae McDuffie (far left) looks over her students as they write ideas for The Mantua Times.

On a scorching Saturday afternoon in the Mantua section of West Philadelphia, the Charles L. Durham Free Library is full of activity. Children are scattered across the building. Some are sitting at the tiny computer desks, playing matching games. Others are sitting in the corner, reading from different books. One little girl looks through a stack of DVDs, trying to find the right one.

Safiyah Brown, a new member of The Mantua Times, types on a donated Dell computer.
Safiyah Brown, a new member of The Mantua Times, types on a donated Dell computer.

In the center of the library, surrounded by all the noise and activity of the children, is Trenae McDuffie. Not bothered by the noise, Trenae is very focused on what she is doing. This 20-year-old woman is the editor of the Mantua Times, a newsletter based around the small community. The newsletter covers a variety of issues including news, education, entertainment and more. The interesting thing about this newsletter is that it is mainly written by the youth of the community.

One by one, the teenage staff of the Mantua Times trickle into the library. They all gather around Trenae, joking and laughing together. Netbook computers are handed out for them to work on and they get down to business. Sitting at those tables, the atmosphere is reminiscent of a newsroom. The teens jot down what they like and don’t like about their community, all the while joking and laughing among one other. They give off the feeling of family and community.

These teens talk about issues that are important to them, such as violence, drugs and homelessness. The issue they bring up will make into the newsletter, which is available to residents both in print and online. Their ideas for change in the community will be seen. This is thanks to Mantua Cares.

The bright, yellow doors of the Mantua Haverford Community Center stand out like a beacon to the community. Behind those doors is the both the community center and the Mantua Cares organization. Founded in 2005, this organization aims to involve the youth of the community in promoting change in Mantua. Mantua Cares is completely centered around the youth and what they can accomplish for the community.

Darnell Ryans is the executive director of the Mantua Cares organization. Starting out as a computer teacher at the West Philadelphia Community Center, he was eventually offered the position of executive director.

“I had a vested interest in youth development.” Ryans said.

Mantua Cares is very much into youth development. They try to engage the young people of the community. Many different programs are provided for the youth, including basketball, technology and art programs and the Mantua Times newsletter.

“We want to take the time to cultivate these young minds.” Ryans said. “We want to give them opportunities.”

So what exactly is the biggest accomplishment of Mantua Cares? They have won numerous awards, including the Lucien Blackwell Award and the Golden Heart Award. These, however, take a backseat to the proud fact that Mantua Cares is entirely run by the youths of the community.

“A lot of the things we do are based on their input.” Ryans said.

Mantua Cares is well accepted by the community and receives many donations as well as a great deal of support. The Mantua Haverford Community Center provides Mantua Cares with space. The proceeds and donations received from various organizations go straight to the programs Mantua Cares leads. In fact, the Dell Netbooks used for the Mantua Times are straight from donations given to Mantua Cares.

Joel Smalls and Derrick Smith take time out of their Saturday afternoon to help The Mantua Times in the Charles Durham Library.
Joel Smalls and Derrick Smith take time out of their Saturday afternoon to help The Mantua Times in the Charles Durham Library.

“My expectations are not financial.” Ryans said. “The community support is just as important.”

Back at the Charles L. Durham Free Library, the meeting of the Mantua Times is just about wrapping up.

“Say your name and then what you like about your community.” McDuffie says to the writers. “We are family here, guys!”

The atmosphere is jovial as the young staffers type out their likes and dislikes, as well as changes they want to see made in their community. With the Mantua Times comes an outlet for these kids. They are given the opportunity to voice their opinions and to work for change. They are also given the chance to improve their skills as young writers.

“There is not always follow-up.” Ryans said. “With this, they can make it grow.”

Ryans expresses the need for programs like the Mantua Times and Mantua Cares because they give the youth of the community the opportunity to learn skills they can take with them. Instead of using these skills for a few weeks while the programs are in session, they can really take these skills to the real world.

Next up on the Mantua Times to do list? Multimedia. They want to expand and get further into the community. The Times hopes to acquire a camera and a tripod, enabling the youth to get out in the community and interview residents. Not only with this help the youth to learn interview skills and interpersonal skills, it will also greatly involve the residents of Mantua and hopefully encourage even more positive change in this thriving community.


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