Next Steps AmeriCorps: Member Spotlight
By Daisy Villa
Now in its second year, Next Steps is a part-time AmeriCorps Program under the umbrella of the Philadelphia Higher Education Network for Neighborhood Development (PHENND), located in University of Pennsylvania’s Netter Center for Community Partnerships.
Next Steps aims to support the college success and career readiness of Philadelphia public school graduates attending local colleges and universities. Specifically, Next Steps prepares sophomore- and junior-level college students from Philadelphia area high schools for future civic engagement through encouraging the principles of service, leadership, and mentorship.
In 2015-2016, 70 Next Steps Members will perform 300 hours of service over twelve months. These 300 service hours are performed through a variety of activities, with a focus on volunteering at designated service sites close to the student’s campus, as well as providing on-campus mentorship to one or two of their freshman peers, who are also recent graduates of Philadelphia public high schools. A near peer mentor-mentee relationship can be critical to the success of first year students and is designed to provide customized critical information and resources to first generation college students at each member campus
Upon completion of his/her 300 service hours, each Next Steps Member receives a $1,212 Education Award that can be used towards any academic endeavor. Students can use this award for tuition, books, housing, federal student loans or graduate school. Next Steps is also proud to offer Member-exclusive scholarship opportunities, skill-building seminars, and workshops on managing the academic and financial stresses of college.
Below are four of our amazing Next Steps AmeriCorps members being highlighted for their term of service. These students worked incredibly hard in the inaugural year of the Next Steps program to complete their 300 hours and to mentor freshman from Philadelphia. Due to their outstanding responses to our first Next Steps essay writing contest #DearFreshmanSelf, these Next Steps Members received a $200 additional scholarship. As you will read below, not only were these students Next Steps members, they are leaders on their campuses and in their communities. We were grateful to have the opportunity to work with them and have no doubt they will use their Next Steps experience to galvanize further educational and career opportunities.
Member Spotlight: Daniel Rivera, Arcadia University, 2017
Daniel Rivera is a junior majoring in Political Science and minoring in French and Spanish at Arcadia University. He is currently training for this year’s Philadelphia Marathon and will be a captain of Arcadia’s cross-country team. Daniel is very active at his school as President of the Student Government, peer mentor of the Gateway/Act 101 program, orientation leader, dance choreographer, and general member of Arcadia’s minority women empowerment club called POWER. One of his dreams is to study abroad in a Spanish speaking country for a semester sometime within the next two years. After graduating from Arcadia in 2017, he plans to attend law school.
For his Next Steps service, he is currently teaching English to immigrants and refugees at the Nationalities Service Center (NSC) in Center City, Philadelphia. He decided to volunteer at NSC, due to previous high school experience serving at-risk immigrants of Philadelphia transitioning to a better stage in their lives. Daniel takes great pride in assisting the students at NSC at understanding the English language so that they may be familiar with their new home and continue their positive contributions to this country. He is excited to announce that his service at NSC will continue throughout the next few months even after his service with Next Steps is complete!
Daniel also shared this about Next Steps, “I learned that no challenge is too difficult. With time and dedication, I can overcome any obstacle whether that be developing lesson plans or teaching with a classroom. I learned that teaching also means learning. My service has allowed me to see a different perspective of the world outside of my own.” He plans to use the education award to pay for tuition in order to pursue his goal to be the first college graduate in his family. Daniel and his family have worked very hard to finance his college experience, so the Award will be a huge relief for them.
In ten years, he sees himself as a practicing lawyer and father, serving his community as an active participant of civic engagement and working towards serving the people of Pennsylvania as a State Senator one day.
Member Spotlight: Olivia Ngo, Drexel University, 2016
Olivia is a third year student at Drexel University, currently studying Biomedical Engineering with a minor in Sociology.
For her Next Steps service, Olivia volunteers at the Lombard Central Presbyterian Soup Kitchen, where she helps prep and serve food to the homeless and other food insecure population. She regularly converses with those who frequent the kitchen, and helps clean the dining hall after food service. Additionally, she helps with grant writing, organizing volunteer shifts, facilitating reflections, and running a variety of drives (clothing, shoe, toiletries, etc.). During her service, Olivia has learned that food insecurity is a real and perpetuating problem. If those who are food secure don’t strive to understand the plight of homelessness and malnutrition due to food insecurity, populations will remain divided. Some populations will continue to own a majority of the wealth, while others will continue to struggle for their next meal.
Through volunteering at the soup kitchen, Olivia says that she has come to realize and further understand her passion to help those who are stuck in the cycle of poverty. “I hope to one day apply my skill set in a way that helps right certain wrongs, and aids those who desperately need it. Going into college, I tried to place a humanitarian lens on how to do my work as a Biomedical Engineer, but this volunteering experience has shifted my focus to applying my work as a Biomedical Engineer to aid humanitarian efforts,” she said. Upon completing her 300 service hours, Olivia plans to use her Education Award toward school expenses to help her continue in coursework.
Member Spotlight: Kevin Kelley, Senior, Kutztown University, 2016
Kevin “Miguel” Kelley is a Senior at Kutztown University majoring in English and minoring in Spanish and Music. Kevin dreams of becoming a professor of Spanish and African-African Diaspora Studies, becoming ESL certified, and performing music and dance at venues around the US and the world.
Kevin volunteers at Olivet Boys’ and Girls’ Club in Reading, PA, a site close to him because of his own siblings. Kevin states: “…kids have a lot of energy so even if you’re having a bad day or have a lot on your mind, it’s hard to be down because you just see how unafraid and curious kids are and the way they just dream big.” He also volunteers with the Center of Male Engagement at the Community College of Philadelphia. The students, ranging from recent high school graduates to non-traditional age students, come to the program to improve their academic and personal skillsets. Volunteering with this program has helped Kevin develop as a student, an African-American male, a role model, a gentleman and a scholar.
Through volunteering, Kevin learned that he enjoys mentoring and advocating for the youth population. He remarked: “I used to think that because I wasn’t where I wanted to be, that I just didn’t have much to say or offer. However through these various experiences and especially mentoring at the C.M.E. I realized that I have a lot to say and offer.” Kevin plans to use his Next Steps Education award to pay down his loans. He hopes to use the remainder to establish a scholarship fund at Community College of Philadelphia and Kutztown University, two institutions vital to his successes thus far.
In ten years, Kevin hopes to be completing his Doctorate in Education, managing several non-profits based out of Philadelphia, New York, Chicago and New Orleans, and working to open a school and a college. He hopes to teach at UPENN or Temple, as well as his own school and college. Kevin sees himself working with local organizations for dance, music and other extracurricular activities around the city to provide more opportunities for the youth to experience the arts, a field he feels is important for personal growth and empowerment.
Member Spotlight: Linda Croskey, Drexel University
Linda Croskey is sophomore at Drexel University. She is currently a nutrition major, but intends to formally switch to culinary science, a major that combines her interests in science and learning different techniques to prepare and present food.
Linda has volunteered for several nonprofits including the Lindy Scholars Program at Drexel University, Career Wardrobe in Center City and Breakthrough of Greater Philadelphia, where she currently volunteers.
Career Wardrobe combined her love for fashion with her desire to impact other women. There she worked as a dressing assistant, helping women of various backgrounds find job appropriate work-wear that reflected their individual styles. Both the Lindy Scholars Program and Breakthrough of Greater Philadelphia allowed Linda to see that she enjoys working with children and teaching in a non-classroom setting. Breakthrough specifically was the perfect avenue to give back to the program that helped her grow as a student. Linda tutored middle and high school students in subjects ranging from PSSA practice to pre-algebra and geometry to writing. She also assisted in the first ever Breakthrough high school graduation this past June, and participated in a pre-college mentoring program over the summer. Linda would like to thank Next Steps for creating the opportunity for her to reconnect with Breakthrough!
Despite several setbacks regarding school that sometimes caused Linda to consider giving up, she realized that she’d come too far and that it would be a waste to give up now. She learned that when she puts her mind to reaching her goals, there is nothing that can stand in her way. She also learned that she likes teaching and mentoring kids. That moment when a child says “Oh I get it now” is a gratifying experience.
Once Linda completes her 300 service hours, she plans to use her Educational Award to settle any currently remaining tuition balances. In ten years, Linda sees herself traveling to all of her dream destinations including Costa Rica, Madrid, Barcelona, and San Francisco. She hopes to learn a new language, although she’s not yet sure which one that will be.
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