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Hill District: "Growing" Group Forced to Wind Down

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For 13-year-old Terry Taylor, there were only so many places he could go for recreation while growing up in the Hill District: the YMCA, the Martin Luther King Reading Center, the city's Robert E. Williams Recreation Center, and the Growing With Trust male mentoring program on Bedford Avenue. However, the Williams rec center was among many the city closed in 2003, the reading center is on the verge of closing, and the Growing With Trust program, which has guided thousands of young men in the Hill since opening in 1993, is about to run out of the foundation funding that has supported it.

Without Growing With Trust, kids will think "no one cares because then what's the point?" says Taylor. "I'm growing up in a kinda bad neighborhood with a lot of drugs around me." GWT counselors "help calm you down and show you what drugs do to people."

 

According to Harry Williams, GWT's executive director, if this program closes, along with others in the community, kids will resort to either using or selling drugs, because "it's all they believe they can do."

The non-profit Growing With Trust once conducted programs inside city schools as well as in their neighborhood, including violence intervention and tutoring. Today, they are reduced to operating on limited evenings, providing drug-and-alcohol prevention sessions, unable even to pay their rent.

 

"It's been the patience of the owner of the building" -- the Urban Redevelopment Authority -- "that's kept us in here this long," Williams says.

 

An all-volunteer staff has run GWT's reduced programs all year. Some parents are upset that their children -- many of whom were enrolled from elementary all the way through high school -- are being "left out on the scrap heap," says Williams.

 

"When my son got into the program, he was doing good in school -- honor roll and everything," says Terry Taylor's mother, Jeanette Taylor, who works for the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board. "When they didn't let [GWT] in the schools, he started going downhill. He wasn't focused, he's been in and out of trouble. The way the school system is set up, they set these boys up to be failures; they give them nothing to do."

 

"I know when the program was fully operational there were a lot of positive outcomes," says Kenwyn McGowan, a GWT board member who works with the county's Department of Human Services. "Children's grades were improving, children who weren't participating in school as fully as they could started improving their behavior. If you're not behaving you're not having a chance to learn."

 

GWT's problem, says Williams, is that programs that serve low-to-no-income families in poor neighborhoods can't show the same dramatic results to funders, such as foundations, as large agencies in more affluent areas, and thus can't compete for grant money.

"We got kids in school who don't know how to get from one end of the city to the other," says Carl Smith, a 70-year-old GWT volunteer for the past five years. "How they gonna get anywhere in life?"

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