The final session and Philly311 YEP graduation ceremony was an emotional but enjoyable day. For the staff who created and implemented this program and worked with the participants ever week, it was bittersweet. It was incredible to review the program with the students and hear all the information the children had learned during the program and see how much their interest in local government had increased, but it was sad to say goodbye to our first YEP cohort.
Overall, this program had a tremendous impact. For example, the interest in and awareness of the Junior Block Captain program increased. According to the survey we took after the final YEP session 35% of our participants showed interest in becoming a Junior Block Captain, in the pre-program survey we took on week one, only 29% were interested in this program. Additionally, after YEP, 96% of our students knew about Junior Block Captains, compared to 29% before the Philly311 youth program. One of our participants has already submitted his application to be a Junior Block Captain. This is only one example of how we have seen a real impact on the lives of these talented young people who want to make a difference in their community.
Another statistic that speaks to the success of YEP is that before our program only two students, 7% of participants, reported knowing what Philly311 was, and after YEP 96% of the students not only knew about the program but felt comfortable using our mobile app to submit requests.
The Final Session
We started off our last day on a light note. We knew that it was going to be a long day for the kids so we ate lunch together; pizza was provided by Philly311.
After the pizza party, we moved into the auditorium for the final presentations. The Mayor’s Office of Civic Engagement and Volunteerism (MOCEV) began the presentations, talking about the many benefits of volunteering. MOCEV explained the Waste Watchers initiative, which is when volunteers work big events in the city, such as the Philadelphia Marathon, to help attendees sort their trash into recycle, compost, and landfill. The students were able to sign-up for Waste Watchers on-site if they were interested.
The Philadelphia Youth Commission presented next. Explaining their history and what they do. The Youth Commission had an activity that demonstrated how some people naturally want to lead the group and others instinctively remain silent. They emphasized the importance of using your voice and informed the students that the Youth Commission was a great way to do that. The YEP participants could become Youth Commissioners as a way to use their voice to influence local political leaders. Both of the presentations were about empowering Philadelphia youth and encouraging civic pride and participation.
The Graduation Ceremony
Following the presentations, we moved on to formal remarks. I spoke about the importance of this program, thanking the students and all of our fantastic partners: Education Works, Police Explorers, Junior Block Captains, Urban Affairs Coalition, ASAP, Fun Safe Philly Summer, Mayor’s Office of Civic Engagement and Volunteerism, and the Youth Commission, who were presenters and volunteered at almost all of the five sessions to help supervise and facilitate the program. I am so appreciative of my staff and to our partners for making this program a reality.
I then introduced Daniel Ramos, Community Engagement Coordinator. He presented before and after pictures of the issues that the students submitted on the first day of YEP and talked about how they were completed and how much better it looks now. His presentation reminded the students what a real difference the students made in this neighborhood. He encouraged them to keep it up, if someone does graffiti on that wall again, report it, if another storm blows down a large tree, submit a request – this is how we keep our city beautiful.
Gabriela Raczka, Communications Director for Customer Service, spoke about how she was honored to participate and get to know these bright young people. She worked on organizing the speakers and attended each session. She felt that it was a very meaningful experience for everyone involved. Gabriela hoped the students learned valuable information from the program. Daniel Ramos spoke again briefly, about how the program came together and how wonderful the students were. He also spoke briefly about his experience growing up in difficult circumstances and how he was able to turn his life around to help make this city a better place.
Councilwoman Maria Quinonez Sanchez joined us for the graduation ceremony. She delivered remarks about how pleased she was this program took place in her district. She told the students how she is deeply invested in the wellbeing of the community and really appreciates all the issues the YEP participants helped to resolve. After Councilwoman Sanchez spoke, we presented the students with their certificates of achievement, signed by the Mayor and myself, and took photos of each YEP student holding their certificate with the Councilwoman, myself, and the Education Works Site Coordinator, Jasmine Council.
Miles Wilson,Executive Director of Education Works, also joined us for the day. He delivered touching remarks about how the program clearly meant a lot to the children and how they were very engaged. He was particularly impressed with how the students interacted with him immediately, even though it was his first day meeting most of them. He told the students he was proud of them and encouraged them to take the information they learned and put it to good use, to keep in touch with the many connections they made from different organizations, and to stay focused.
The graduation closed with remarks from Laiya, radio personality from 107.9, who told the children how great it was that they learned how to report issues to 311 and what a great job they did helping to improve their community.
The entire day was celebratory and inspirational. I am thrilled at what we accomplished with this program and am looking to the future hoping we can continue this great work to empower and educate young Philadelphians.
Stay tuned for more updates about the Youth Engagement Program and contact Gabriela Raczka, Gabriela.firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to be involved in future Philly311 YEP programming or activities.
Rosetta Carrington Lue is the City of Philadelphia first Chief Customer Officer. She is a dynamic leader in the fields of Customer Experience Management, Strategy and Technology, Social Media and Community Engagement in both public and private sectors.