It’s 9 a.m. on Saturday and a group of students are standing outside Hunting Park’s Simple Cycle bike shop waiting for someone with a key to arrive. One student holds an SAT prep book in his arms; another cradles two boxes from Dunkin’ Donuts.
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Once inside, students gather in the lobby of the building that connects to the bike shop’s retail store. There’s a morning prayer and mouthfuls of donuts for the middle- and high-school students enrolled in Vocatio Career Prep School’s Saturday classes, a program created to help youth gain job skills while strengthening their relationship with Jesus Christ.
Students in the 10-week spring session have the option of taking welding, SAT prep or business exploration classes. This week, students in the business class walked to a nearby Dunkin’ Donuts franchise with entrepreneurship teacher Dan Martinez to learn about its operations.
Back at Simple Cycle, professional welder Jason Funk traveled more than two hours from the middle of Pennsylvania to teach the small group of students in the welding class.
“I think it’s worth it to travel this distance,” says Funk (seen on right with students), who makes the trip each weekend. “I like to see people have an opportunity to learn something that maybe they wouldn’t have the opportunity to have. We get opportunities to talk with the students in personal ways about their home life and just give them some hope for the future.”
On this Saturday, students had a bright idea for their welding project. They’re working on making lamps out of the heaping pile of bicycle frames and tires sitting in the shop.
“At first I wanted to make a dog crate,” says 15-year old Angelica Velez (pictured below), “but one of the students had thought of a lamp. That really was inspiring because nobody would think of making that.”
The group put pencils to paper to begin sketching their creations and dug through scrap parts for inspiration.
“This program is good for the community because we do everything while learning about Christ,” says 14-year-old Lycette Rivera. “After welding, we gather and talk about Christ and how he got us here.”
The program, directed by Andy Kim of 8th Street Community Church, also offers larger full-day camps during the summer. Kim hopes to one day get Vocatio to become a full-time accredited high school where students can earn certifications that will get them jobs.
– Text, images and video by Cara Stefchak.