Back in the late ’90s, when Kate Blackburn wanted to add programs for Chester’s at-risk youth at Crozer-Keystone Wellness Center, all she needed was the support of the health system, the city and its school district, plus a million or so dollars. Over time, she’s made it happen, increasing funding from $500,000 to $1.4 million. “The need was great, and the community was willing to work together,” she says. “Maybe they just needed someone to point the way.”
That’s exactly what Blackburn prescribes for Chester’s kids: a positive vision and the right tools. “We tell them that college is possible, that a good-paying job is possible,” she says.
It’s done through initiatives like Blueprints/Peer Leader Program, which brings high school students into junior high classes to talk honestly about peer pressure, drugs, violence and other issues. In March, the Pennsylvania Statewide Afterschool/Youth Development Network named the Chester Youth Collaborative an Afterschool Champion. Its programs focus on scholarship,
internship placement, empowerment, leadership and nonviolence.
Chester’s deputy mayor, Nafis Nichols, was the beneficiary of Blackburn’s programs starting in sixth grade. “Every week, someone walks through the door who was in the program years ago and confirms our impact on their lives,” Blackburn says. “It might take them 10 years to finish their college degrees or several attempts to find the right job, but they keep fighting for a better future for themselves because they believe it can happen.”