Opportunities for York City's youth: 'Whatever you put your mind to, you can get it done'

Meredith Willse
York Dispatch

Nazyiah Pena started the day questioning what a future career could hold.

But after speaking with professionals from diverse backgrounds as part of York City's first Endless Opportunities Tour, she started to get an idea.

“I know I want to be in the Marines,” said Pena, a 15-year-old sophomore at William Penn Senior High School, adding that she wants to "drive the ship" like Navy recruiter Petty Officer Maria Hernandez — perhaps with a sideline as a YouTube video creator.

Pena was one of a group of local teens who participated in a daylong program designed to show them possible career and college options, sponsored by The Program "It's About Change," a York City-based nonprofit that hosts a variety of services designed to divert more young people away from the criminal justice system.

The opportunities tour is about prevention, giving young people a sense of the bight future they could have. Other programs offered by The Program include family job placement and reunification for parolees, housing assistance and adult mentorship.

The Endless Opportunities Tour started with a stop at York College followed by a visit to the Penn State York campus. Participants then had lunch with police officers and the owner of Skillet 2 Plate Soul Bistro, who spoke about how to start and run a business. Finally, the teens spoke with military recruiters and health care professionals.

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During the lunch break, the teens taught the officers something: dance moves via viral TikTok videos.

“That was a learning experience,” said The Program CEO AliceAnne Frost, of the impromptu dance break. “That’s important because it’s important to our kids.”

Frost said it is important to find out what young people care about in order to build trusting relationships. 

Toward the end of the day, after a meeting with the Navy recruiter, Pena joined West York Police Officer Bree Wilson in some push-ups — with Wilson demonstrating proper form to strengthen every muscle group.

West York Police Officer Bree Wilson teaches Nazyiah Pena how to do a push Wednesday during the first Endless Opportunities Tour. The tour was to show at-risk teens different career paths they can take in the future. Meredith Willse photo

Scott Vukoder, a campus programs specialist with WellSpan, spoke about part-time job opportunities and different avenues the teens could take with or without specialized education and their benefits. 

Until Wednesday, Pena had not thought about any of those career options, she said. After speaking with the Marine Corps recruiter, Pena plans to join JROTC and work her way up. 

Pena felt optimistic about her future because she set goals for herself, even though some of the specifics are still falling into place.

“Whatever you put your mind to, you can get it done,” she said. 

Her friend, 16-year-old Victoria Laboriel, was undecided. The teen, who also attends William Penn, was considering going to college before the tour. After the tour, she knew she wanted to go to New York University and York College. She is trying to decide on a major. Laboriel knows she wants a degree in something she is passionate about. 

Admissions counselor Katie McGowan, right, leads a campus tour during The Program’s The Endless Opportunities Tour stop at York College of Pennsylvania in Spring Garden Township, Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022.  Dawn J. Sagert photo

She said she learned about going to school and how to get a minimum wage job, which was all new to her. Laboriel said the tour was helpful because it taught her steps through life. 

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The teen has been in the program for a year and said it is working for her. She isn’t getting in trouble for skipping classes. Since joining, she got back on the right track and saw her grades improve. 

“There are a lot of things to take in — a lot of different opportunities,” said Crispus Attucks student Kayvon Ward, 17, at the end of the tour.

He started the day with a plan to pursue a career in rap music. But Ward said the tour gave him several other options to consider as he pursues his dream.

— Reach Meredith Willse at mwillse@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @MeredithWillse.

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