In 1991, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Chapter (SEPA) of the American Red Cross established the Partners For Youth Program. Partners For Youth is dedicated to the idea that given support and guidance, youth can – and do – make healthy choices in their lives and positive contributions to their communities, thus their motto, “Yes Youth Can.”
The Red Cross has traditionally had a strong presence in schools and through the Partners for Youth Program students joined Junior Red Cross clubs to aid in local disasters and to help local chapters canteen during wartime. Youth involvement peaked in the 1940’s with over 400,000 youth volunteers in the SEPA Chapter alone, yet began to wane in the 1960’s. A revitalized understanding in the 1980’s that youth could be powerful resources for change and leadership in the community facilitated the inception of the Partners For Youth Program.
Partners For Youth is a service-learning oriented program dedicated to promoting the healthy development of Philadelphia’s low-income children. The youth in that city are in a precarious situation that makes them disproportionately vulnerable to economic, social and programmatic inequities in income, welfare, education and crime. The Partners For Youth Program addresses these concerns through a life-skills curriculum, and after-school program and school-wide safety workshops. These three components provide students with the tools to make healthy and informed decisions, to develop leadership experience, and to make important contributions to their communities.
Since its inception, the program has grown exponentially from three to 16 middle schools. Today the program reaches over 1,800 students per year. SEPA supports the program through volunteer and paid staff. There are 14 volunteers who work six to 10 hours per week that provide the impetus for the program. The American Red Cross also employs 100 full-time salaried staff, five of which are dedicated full time to the Partners Program.
The Program was designed to teach youth empowerment, community service, ethics and leadership skills. The curriculum teaches values, goals, overcoming obstacles, community needs assessments and culminates in an individualized short or long-term community service project. Partners For Youth deliberately enters schools that receive Title One funding from the District, schools in which at least 85% of the student population lives at or below the poverty level. Students have historically focused on projects ranging from urban environmentalism to vandalism prevention, from food banks to elder care. All projects originate from youth ideas and the students are responsible for planning and creatively implementing their chosen projects. The Partners For Youth staff and volunteers feel privileged to assist the students in enriching their lives.