Youth program reaches out to students

By Nicole Osuch
February 15, 2007

Andrea Mancuso/Submitted Photo

Cabrini College received a grant this year from the Office of Minority Health to direct a holistic health program, the Youth Empowerment Program, for 30 adolescents from Norristown, Pa. Cabrini College was one of 25 colleges in the country to receive the grant.

Cabrini College, in cooperation with the Big Brother Big Sister Association of Montgomery County, the PAL Center, Family Services of Montgomery County and the Norristown Area School District, have joined together to “empower students by assisting them in setting and achieving individualized goals in the areas of academic achievement, personal development and wellness, cultural enrichment and career development.”

“We are giving them the tools they need, to make good choices and have lives that are meaningful to them,” Andrea Mancuso, director of the YEP, said. “We are really looking to help them find their strengths and help them to go wherever they want to go.”

The 30 youth were selected from Norristown High School, Eisenhower Middle School and Stewart Middle School. The youth were referred from the Big Brother Big Sister Association and the youth had the opportunity to refer friends to the program. The majority of the group is African-American and Latino.

The YEP meets on Tuesday afternoons at Norristown High School and on Wednesdays, they alternate between the PAL Center and Cabrini College. Mancuso said that the students like having a safe place to come and experience different activities where their opinions are valued.

Dr. MariaElena Hallion, professor of exercise science and health promotion, runs the wellness component of the program. Coordinating the project evaluation is Dr. April Perrymore, a psychology professor.

Angela Knapp, a junior exercise science and health promotion major, said, “I think it is a really great opportunity to share my knowledge that I have learned with them and make a difference by helping them to make better lifestyle and health choices.”

The program attempts to demonstrate to the participants healthy habits. One particular Wednesday, they were given pedometers and kept track of their steps in a log throughout the week. The program also aims to teach nutrition and has planned a trip to a fast-food restaurant to show the youth how to make healthy food choices.

In addition, the youth have been exposed to stress management techniques including yoga, progressive muscle relaxation and guided imagery. Mancuso said, “The students have taken really well to that.”

“Their favorite part is eating in the cafeteria because I think they like getting the feel of what college is like and eating whatever they want. It’s funny because they are having like a health day and they’re eating like five hamburgers and fries,” Mancuso said.

The program offers a cultural enrichment component as well. “The main idea is we want them to be proud of their culture and be exposed to other cultures,” Mancuso said. The program exposes them to dance, theater, world music, plays and the visual arts. Two cultural excursions that the program has gone on include a trip to see “My Children! My Africa!” at the Wilma Theatre and “Philadanco” at the Kimmel Center.

“The style of dance was really new for them. Some of them did and other’s didn’t connect with the style of dance. That’s why we’re doing trips like seeing the “Drums of China” at the Annenberg Center at the University of Pennsylvania,” Mancuso said.

The career component is woven in through all the components of the program. Mancuso said that they are always talking about careers with the youth in addition to tailoring individual work-site visits to help them explore different careers.

“We really try to show them that there is a world of possibilities,” Mancuso said.

Along with the wellness, cultural enrichment and career development components, there is also an academic achievement component that focuses on presentation, writing and reading skills.

Knapp said that the students have given really good feedback and are really enjoying the program because they are getting to experience activities that they would otherwise not.

Mancuso observed that the youth respect and support one another and have a sense of ownership about the group. They are invested in it.

“They really have the world open to them. It’s a critical time in their lives and I see my role as helping them to go through the transition from adolescence to adulthood smoothly,” Mancuso said.

The Wolfington Center encourages Cabrini students to get involved with the YEP and share their talents and time with the youth.

Video by Brittany Liberatore

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Nicole Osuch

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