(READING) – Alvernia University held a news conference on Monday, Dec. 7, 2009, at 10 a.m., as U.S. Congressman Jim Gerlach announced a special $600,000 grant from the United States Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to support expansion of the South Reading Youth Initiative (SRYI).
The SRYI is an innovative youth program for Reading’s inner-city students ages 7 -14, and is funded completely by grants and the support of Alvernia’s Holleran Center for Community Engagement.
The initiative began in 2006 when a group of community leaders expressed mutual concern regarding the attrition rates in the Reading School District and the correspondingly disappointing rates of college attendance (specifically among the Hispanic and Latino populations). Reading Mayor Thomas McMahon, Senator Michael O’Pake, and Jonathan Encarnacion of the Reading’s Hispanic Center joined together with Alvernia President Thomas F. Flynn, and representatives from the Jesuit Center in Wernersville to discuss a solution.
“The group also recognized that no after-school programs existed in the South Reading area that provided a ‘safe haven’ for children in the after-school hours, allowing them to stay committed to their education and make healthy choices during their critical decision-making years,” said Dr. Flynn. “The linkage between these two points led us to make some obvious conclusions, and to form the South Reading Youth Initiative.”
Initial funding for the SRYI program came in the form of a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, secured with the support of Sen. O’Pake. Within a month, the Holleran Center for Community Engagement held its first Creativity Camp with a week’s worth of activities for 27 inner-city students in grades 2 - 8. Now in its fourth year, the SRYI has touched the lives of hundreds of children and their parents, with programming designed to guide area students to personal achievement, social responsibility, and moral integrity through mentoring, the arts, and educational activities.
“The program currently has more than 25 community partners, and has received funds from still many others, including Jerry and Carolyn Holleran, for whom the Holleran Center is now named,” said Ginny Hand, Director of the Holleran Center.