Since Dugan & Associates' formation nearly 20 years ago, we’ve watched Pittsburgh work hard to transform itself from its industrial past. Few communities have worked harder than Braddock. Once a thriving steel town, Braddock’s population slowly dwindled after the 1960s. But the town has seen a resurgence in recent years, thanks in part to community-focused organizations like the Braddock Youth Project.
The Braddock Youth Project gives students paid work experience while offering on-the-job training that prepares them for life beyond high school—all while giving back directly to the community. “There are three teams youth can join at the Braddock Youth Project,” explains Tatiana Crosby, the Project’s Assistant Coordinator. “There’s the Gardening team, the Media team, and the Mentoring team.” While the Garden team works to beautify the Braddock community, the Media team partners with the Carnegie Library to develop computer and technology skills, and the Mentoring team works with local daycares to assist in child development.
As a former student member herself, the Braddock Youth Project holds a special place in Crosby’s heart. She attended the Braddock Youth Project from 2011 until 2014, when she graduated from high school. She largely focused on Gardening while she was there, and she gradually moved up in leadership positions. Now a full-time employee in an office support role, she’s guiding the next generation in the background by working on payroll, editing documents, and assisting in “Straight Talk”—the Project’s secret to student success.
Straight Talk is the Project’s alternative to traditional disciplinary tactics. “It’s one of the reasons I love working here,” says Youth Programs Manager Jessica Gumber. “There’s more focus on doing and less focus on discipline.” Straight Talk works by giving each youth member weekly written and individual feedback on their performance over the last week. While it can be used to identify behavioral issues, it’s frequently used for praise. “Straight talk creates a constant celebration of success while allowing us to closely monitor behavior.”
To Gumber, Straight Talk is the backbone to the productivity in the Braddock Youth Project. Staying focused is important because membership in the group balloons each summer to around 60 youths. “We have to stay open all year long,” Gumber explains. “We are an afterschool program, but, more importantly, we provide a space for youth to develop skills while tying job development to the community itself.”
During the school year, however, the numbers shrink back to about 20 students in attendance every day. After school, the Braddock Youth Project offers homework help, and each group continues skill development through hands-on training, discussions, and documentaries. With consistent training, these students gain skills many of their peers don’t have. Upon graduation, these skills give them an advantage over the competition as they look for full-time jobs or consider heading to college. Those that decide to stay in Braddock can use their talents to continue the community’s economic growth.
According to Gumber, the Braddock Youth Project is much more than building community and preparing students for the workforce. The Project establishes lifelong friendships. “One of our former members was 14 years old when he first started with us,” says Gumber. “He’s 24 now, and he recently had a baby with his girlfriend, who was also a member. I’m going to meet their baby tomorrow.” Relationships like these are common, says Gumber, and they help tie the citizens of Braddock together.
In providing a positive adult presence, the Braddock Youth Project ensures the town’s youth have a secure, educational community outside of school. Step by step, Braddock is rebuilding itself by developing tomorrow’s leaders. If you want to learn even more about the Braddock Youth Project, you can visit their Facebook page or Instagram account, which was formed by the student members of the Media team.
At Dugan & Associates, we’re proud to spotlight the positive developments in the communities around us. If you’d like to learn more about our community involvement or our legal work, contact us.
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