Latesha Vosacek (pictured above) is the director of after-school programs for the Southwark House location of United Communities Southeast Philadelphia, located on 101 Ellsworth St.
The organization serves people of all ages residing in the area by providing educational, advocacy and social programs that exist to improve the quality of life for members of the community.
Could you start off by explaining a little bit about yourself and what you do at United Communities?
My name is Latesha Vosacek. I oversee this particular site’s after-school programs. I actually live in the community as well, so I often see the kids in my off-time riding bikes past my house or at the grocery store.
What are some of the programs at Southwark House?
Well, we partner with Girls Today, Leaders Tomorrow (GTLT), a two year program that targets girls in under-served schools – so, maybe a school that is in an urban area where the grades are not so good or the funding is pretty low and needs extra support.
The program targets girls who are in danger of failing, have done poorly in some core subjects or have attendance or behavioral issues that they need to improve on. The point is to help build them up, turn them around and be more productive in school.
Can you explain what SAFE is?
Yes. We did have a program called SAFE, which was an all girls program and it was sort of like GTLT on a much smaller scale. We worked with 15 girls in grades five through eight and we did a lot of the same leadership building. We helped them with their homework, confidence building, respecting others and respecting themselves. It was like the gateway to GTLT.
The program actually just ended in the past couple of months. We’re not really sure what that future will hold but for now we’re trying to maintain it in some form through the after-school program.
How long have you been involved with the organization?
I have been the director of the after-school program for about two years. For SAFE, I have been involved for about probably five or six years. I actually interned for the program in college and then I came back.
Do you have any future plans or ideas for the after-school program?
Well, I would like to see the program as a whole grow. The after-school program services both boys and girls in kindergarten through eighth grade, so I would like to see us grow and really target the kids who need the most help. We want to help turn their shortcomings around. For example, help improve their grades and their attitudes.
I would like to keep SAFE going as well. We lost the funding for SAFE, but I want to see what we can do to keep that going. I think young girls in particular are a very unique population that needs that extra structure or an extra mentor. Even if they have relationships with their parents it’s always great to have someone that is not a parent to be there to guide them and help mold and shape them and be good role models for them. So I would like to keep SAFE going, that’s my goal.
Were there any projects or events you participated in that you really enjoyed? Or maybe a situation that was really hard with some of the kids?
I would say participating in GTLT was really great. Just to see some of the girls who have been in the program continue to grow and thrive and do well has been really great.
It can be a struggle at times to keep girls on track and keep them interested because they are teens and preteens and they lose interest easily. So it’s been really hard doing that, but it’s definitely nice to see some of them involved and engaged in the program.
What part of your job do you value the most?
Ideally, making an impact, not only on the kids but their families. We have been able to provide beds, food, clothes even Thanksgiving baskets for families who might not otherwise have that and that’s really meaningful. Just helping people is really rewarding.
Is there any specific story you would like to share that tugs on your heartstrings?
There is this single mom and seven of her nine kids attend our program. She’s doing her best to take care of all these kids. She works full time, but still cannot make ends meet. It’s not easy. We’ve provided Thanksgiving baskets to her and the kids as well as clothes and beds because we knew she really needed the help. We like to help families who are trying to do their best but still don’t quite make it.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
We are in need of constant volunteers during the school year for homework help with the kids. If someone were interested in volunteering they could contact me directly at email@example.com or contact the volunteer coordinator, Rose Duncan, at 215-468-1645, ext. 213.
– Text and photos by Sarah DeSantis and Christine Irving.