Pittsburgh-area students tackle community challenges in Learn and Earn program |

Pittsburgh-area students tackle community challenges in Learn and Earn program

Jamie Martines
Two teens participate in the Learn and Earn program at the Drew Mathieson Center in 2016.

Martell Reese wants to change the world.

And he’s starting in Pittsburgh’s Homewood neighborhood.

Reese, 14, of East Hills, spent the past six weeks examining the factors that contribute to crime in Homewood. Along with three teammates, he surveyed over 40 Homewood residents in an effort to highlight the factors community members think would help to improve public safety.

“It shows that people do care about their community,” Reese said. “And maybe they can change the world with us.”

Reese and his teammates are among about 100 students, ages 14 to 21, who participated in the Youth Enrichment Services program this summer. The students conducted research projects in about 15 neighborhoods across the city.

In Wilkinsburg, a team researched dropout rates. In East Liberty, a team studied the community’s satisfaction with new businesses and development. In Lincoln-Lemington, a looked at how residents share community news and communicate with each other.

Reese, his teammates and other students will present their findings to community members Thursday at the Youth Enrichment Services Learn and Earn Program Symposium starting at 5 p.m. at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. The event is open to the public.

The Learn and Earn program facilitated by Youth Enrichment Services is one of 24 such programs taking place throughout the county and supported by Partner4Work, the public workforce development board for Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. Students are paid for their work — they’re expected to show up on time every day and produce a project that gives back to the community — but also to participate in academic enrichment programs and practice leadership skills throughout the six week program.

The goal is to help young people develop a spirit of advocacy, awareness and action, said Denise Jones, program manager at Youth Enrichment Services.

“We’re doing it for a project, but we can still make a difference,” said Jaemir Perkins, 15, of Penn Hills, who also worked on the Homewood project, adding that it was a little discouraging that some residents did not want to take their survey or talk to them about what they would like to see change in their community.

“As a kid, they’re going to look at you like, are you serious?” Perkins said.

Perkins said he was thankful for those who did take the time to share their stories with him.

They learned that some elderly residents want to see businesses renovated so that they are accessible, and that roads and sidewalks are in need of repair, said team member Aaron Tyler, 15, of the South Side.

“A corner store on every corner, but only one laundromat,” Tyler said, adding that other crucial institutions, like places of worship and pharmacies also seemed to be missing.

Chania Glover, 14, of Lincoln-Lemington, studied how trash littering the streets of Garfield impacts residents’ feelings about their neighborhood. Glover and her teammates surveyed 45 Garfield residents, and about 82 percent said that there’s a littering problem in their community.

“I hope Garfield gets more garbage cans,” Glover said.

It’s a solution she and her teammates hope to deliver to community leaders, along with suggestions for what residents would like to see in place of vacant buildings. Homeless shelters, convenience stores, restaurants and apartment buildings were at the top of the list, team member Kiajah Young, 14, of Homewood, said.

Young is optimistic that their findings could impact the community.

“If people hear me out,” she said.

Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jamie at 724-850-2867, [email protected] or via Twitter @Jamie_Martines.

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