South Philadelphia: Local Agency Works to Empower and Strengthen Community Youth

Cory Miller, the Networking Communications Director, has been with SEPC for three years.]

Even though American Idol has passed its heyday, a similar talent competition is generating buzz in Philadelphia. The After School Idol Talent Show is an annual event inspired by the hit television show. Run by the Southeast Philadelphia Collaborative the competition showcases the creative and performing works of young people in the community. On Oct. 21, 2010, the SEPC celebrated its fourth annual competition in the Perelman Theatre at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. The event exhibited the talents of young dancers, singers, musicians and artists and attracted an intrigued audience. The event promoted youth leadership and creativity while celebrating teens in a positive light.

Cory Miller, the Networking Communications Director, has been with SEPC for three years.

Cory Miller, the networking communications director, has been with the program since 2008. “The Idol talent show allows all seven of our network agencies to come together and have their youth be given the opportunity to be spotlighted for their various talents. It really gives these youths from these neighborhoods the chance to feel famous for a day,” Miller said.

Kyra Sacksith,a singer and member of the Cambodian Association of Greater Philadelphia as well as SEPC’s Youth Leadership Council, performed in her fourth Idol show last year. “I learned how to get over my fear of being on stage and I got experience from the years I have performed. It gave me confidence,” Sacksith said.

Located in the Houston Community Center on 8th Street near Snyder Avenue, the Southeast Philadelphia Collaborative’s mission is to “coordinate youth and adult partnerships that provide and promote youth development and leadership opportunities in Southeast Philadelphia.” They work with youth in the community, ages 12 to 18, through a variety of programs and activities like the After School Idol Talent Show and the Youth Leadership Council. This group of 14 teens gets involved in the community by promoting SEPC in the community through participating in street and park clean-ups, handing out information and tabling at community events. They are the face of the organization.

What began in 1999 as a grassroots movement in the community, SEPC now incorporates a network of seven local non-profit agencies including: Cambodian Association of Greater Philadelphia, Caring People Alliance, Fleisher Art Memorial, Pennsylvania Migrant Education, Sunrise of Philadelphia, United Communities Southeast Philadelphia and Variety Children’s Charity of Greater Philadelphia.

Kyra Sacksith performed at the fourth annual After School Idol Talent Show.

SEPC develops its programs around five core concepts: academic, career and life skills opportunities, arts and culture, environmental justice, leadership and civic engagement and health and wellness. Through these concepts, each program is designed to build and strengthen skills and values in the teens they serve.  One such program is Teens4Good, which teaches youth sustainable urban gardening practices and entrepreneurial skills. Through T4G, youth workers maintain their own community gardens, which were once just abandoned lots. Eventually, they sell the produce to local Shop Rite grocery stores for profit.  According to SEPC, this program is successful by “improving access to healthy food for communities, creating meaningful jobs for at-risk youth and empowering youth to become healthy responsible young adults and leaders who give back to their communities.”

Similarly, SEPC’s newest endeavor, South Philly Teen Orchard, which began in 2011, transformed an abandoned lot on 8th and Emily streets into a community space which will eventually house a variety of fruits trees and a grape arbor. Picnic tables, murals and a grill will complete this area and invite youth members and neighbors to enjoy the community space.

While SEPC encourages its members to get involved in the community it also allows for them to have their own space and time. Some of the most successful programs are the Teen Lounges, free after-school programs which provide youth with a safe place, a second living room to relax and avoid the troubled paths some of their peers take such as violence, crime, drug use, teen pregnancy and dropping out of school. The three locations for these lounges are at Fleisher Art Memorial at 719 Catherine St., the Caring People’s Alliance at the Fels South Philadelphia Community Center at 2407 S. Broad St. and the Houston Center at 2029 S. 8th St. These three locations each have specific hours but are generally opened Monday through Friday from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Activities vary throughout each location and include photography lessons, beginners and advanced break dancing classes, aquatic activities and more. Teens get involved at the lounges by designing flyers and posters, creating the space and contributing to the various programs offered. SEPC encourages teens to highlight these opportunities on their resumes and college applications, a big step for some teens that might not otherwise have the resources or support system to do so.

Cory Miller showed the latest project, the South Philly Teen Orchard on 8th Street.

SEPC is funded by partnerships with several Philadelphia-based organizations such as the William Penn Foundation, Philadelphia Urban Food and Fitness Alliance, Philadelphia Activities Fund, Philadelphia Department of Public Health and Youthadelphia. Together with community supporters, SEPC is taking little steps to make a big difference in the lives of youth in South Philadelphia.


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