Rising Sons: An Interview with founder Alex Peay

Posted on June 28, 2012

By Alex Peay and Liz Shriver

Rising Sons is a growing nonprofit based in Philadelphia that focuses on the development of underprivileged young men ages 18-28 to become highly qualified for competitive jobs at young ages through personal and professional development as they give back to their communities through civic engagement.

Rising Sons began on February 12th, 2007 as a small discussion group within the Black and Latino male population on the campus of Ursinus College.   It was created to address the lack of support and unity among underprivileged minorities at Ursinus College.   The intention was to build leaders, begin an open sense of community, promote “brotherhood”, enhance social and professional skills and expound upon one’s perspective of self-worth and capability. We pursued community service, campus events, fundraisers, and collective academic success as means of supporting each other and affecting our environment in ways that favored our needs and desires.

As the group began to develop and acquire more members, the focus also began to change. The members saw the potential of the group to be a positive force in the community and began to develop outreach programs such as feeding the homeless in Center City, Philadelphia, clothing and canned food drives, and sponsoring a holiday extravaganza for young children residing in nearby impoverished neighborhoods.” http://www.risingsons.org/about/history

Since this original project, Rising Sons has moved to a civic engagement model that focuses primarily on developing the leadership and career readiness skills of the young people they work with.I interviewed Alex Peay to learn more about the development of this project and the potential for other university students to become involved.

Q: What was the catalyst for starting Rising Sons at Ursinus?

A: Before the creation of Rising Sons, my dream was to become a corporate attorney. After a racial incident on campus which targeted minority students, Alex gathered a few minority male students to spark discussions and the creation of a group on campus to address these issues. Involvement with civic engagement and volunteering was a initial component. Originally we started an event called “Get Fresh Fridays” where we would dress up and eat dinner together, hold canned and cloth drives, volunteered with homeless people in Center City and called the program Rising Sons. Then, I started thinking, “What could happen if we brought Rising Sons to Philadelphia [K-12] students”. I decided to do City Year instead of Law School. So we started to do Rising Sons through various of community organizations and public schools to begin our work with youth and word of mouth.

Q: What are the different components of Rising Sons and how have you expanded in Philadelphia?

A: We do community service as an organization, we do school based projects, we hold fundraisers and outreach initiatives in schools and community organizations. We moved Rising Sons to Philadelphia because I had an internship with Senator Casey and because we had connections and support in the city government. I just started networking and building.  A lot of our members are from City Year so they work in after-school programs and they have helped develop a mentorship program. In after-school we focus on sports, mentorship, computer technology and performing arts.

We are currently partnered with Andrew Jackson Elementary School, Overbrook High School, South Philly High school, Edison High School and the Philadelphia Center for Arts and Technology (PCAT). At PCAT we hold our performance arts group. That space is great because of the resources they have. This year we have five members working at PCAT on music production in their studio.

Q: Why did you decide to target K-12 students instead of focusing on college students?

A: We realized how much mentorship and having these discussions meant to us in college and that this could have a huge impact on younger students and on young men who did not attend college. Now our mission is to prepare young men for professional fields and to ensure that these men are highly qualified for professional jobs.

Our membership consists of: College students, recent graduates and young men interested in college who are out of school. Our members serve younger students and through this framework of civic engagement and leadership our members gain skills through civic engagement. For example we gave one of our members the job of running a technology program at Edison high school. He, in turn, was able to obtain a position at Boys and Girls club as an IT specialist.

So it’s an alternative model of consistent professional development for young men age 18 to 28. Each member is able to be a mentor as well as receive guidance and mentorship themselves.  The biggest thing is having our older members take on roles as managers.  We have a team that manages volunteers and that gives them strong experiences.  All of the projects we do build skills that they can use in the future and take ownership over new ideas.

Q: What feedback have you received so far from students, parents and teachers?

A: We finished our after-school program last week and the students were not happy. We’re going to be working with our group on the weekends throughout the summer. Parents and teachers and principals have all been really all so happy about this project.

We use our own curriculum and build from our own experiences. Our basic model is that each month we’re going to address a certain issue. And after discussion then we’ll put together a service-project that will address the issue.

Q: What are your goals and next steps for Rising Sons?

A: My goal is to gain more exposure, to do more networking events.  We’re building a relationship with Drexel now with the school of health, which is stationed on 15th and Vine and is part of their student success center and we’re going to do a program called Co-Rise.

I don’t remember what this is: Co-rise allows college students to gain experience in potential careers of their interests through our organization. This program allows college students to work in our administration, running after school programs. volunteer in our community service projects, and or help promote togetherness on their campus through our on-campus model.

Learn more at: http://www.risingsons.org/

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