Our Harrisburg Stories from the Burg

Beating the Odds – Why Harrisburg Doesn’t Have to be a Bad Place for Youth

Blue Steps
Written by Steph

Recently, I’ve heard a lot of people throwing around statistics about Harrisburg, especially the School District. I’ve heard people saying that Harrisburg School District is the 2nd worst in the state, and, last I checked, I’ve also heard it’s #12 at the bottom of the list in the country. Harrisburg High School has a 42% graduation rate. These are powerful statistics.

To someone just seeing the cold, hard numbers, Harrisburg might seem like a place devoid of hope for the next generation.

But, I don’t get that impression when I look at Harrisburg. Yes, Harrisburg, like most cities, has its problems. But don’t we also have opportunity? Things to offer? History? Business? Community events?

We are not a city that has nothing to offer, and I assure you that Harrisburg is NOT a place devoid of hope for the next generation.

I am blessed to be employed by Bethesda Mission Youth Center. This is an after-school program located in Allison Hill (15th and Herr St) that runs programs for 1st through 12th grade students. We have an incredible bunch of students that walk through our doors every day. When I look at them, I see hope. I see youth that know what they are up against, but are trying to beat the odds anyway.

And it’s working.

A powerful statistic was just released about our kids – that of our high school students, we have an 86% graduation rate. 86% graduating – compared to 42% within their community as a whole. That’s nothing to overlook. Something is happening within our center, and it excites me that as of October 22, 2016, Bethesda Mission Youth Center has a new name: Bethesda Mission Community Center. This is in anticipation of the coming building expansion, which will double our impact on youth and families in the community.

Bethesda Mission Youth Center gives students the tools they need to succeed in school, jobs, and in other areas of life. We have staff members that love, encourage, and guide the kids through the odds that they face. Not one person in our building is willing to just allow our students to become statistics. With a positive environment like this, students are looking to the future rather than to the here and now – and it’s making a difference.

What’s even more exciting than that is that it’s not just Bethesda Mission that gives students this environment. Harrisburg city is a place covered in Youth Centers where kids are given great opportunities – a few other names are Neighborhood Center (complete with a fantastic computer lab for students to learn in), Center for Champions (which has a fully developed one-to-one mentoring program for youth), and Bethesda Mission (already mentioned, but worth mentioning that they are expanding to more kids and families). These programs, among others, are serving the community with lasting effects on Harrisburg’s youth.

There are also plenty of great schools that give students other alternatives – PA Cyber, Connections Academy, Cougar Academy, Math and Science, and DC and Sci Techs are a handful of schools that our students at Bethesda Mission Youth Center have been able to get into as an alternative to other schools.

I do not believe that the opportunity for good things for youth is diminishing in Harrisburg city. My husband and I have had recent encounters that have encouraged us as well. My husband just had an opportunity to meet our mayor, who is looking for ways to improve the city for Harrisburg youth. We’ve also had an opportunity to meet Robert Taylor, the owner of “Ooowee” a gaming and arts café in the Harrisburg mall. He spent a long time with us sharing his passion for arts and for the inner-city youth of Harrisburg – and not only how he wants to teach them how to improve their artwork, but he also has a vision to educate them on the business side of marketing their passions so that they can be successful and make a living one day doing what they love. How cool is that?

Harrisburg may have its stats and its downsides, but to me, it’s evident that Harrisburg has its strengths, too – it’s up to us to look for those strengths, and to build up Harrisburg’s youth where we can.


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