Teens get off streets & into college thanks to PHAs Skills for Life
    PHILADELPHIA- Does it seem like the words "guns," "violence" and "teens" are connected in Philadelphia? It doesn't have to be that way. 

    The Philadelphia Housing Authority is providing a way to break the connection for teens 14 and over who live in public housing while giving them the tools to succeed. PHA's Skills for Life Program is about to begin another year, offering high school students a safe haven plus academic tutoring, career counseling and social support.
Hundreds of young people have already completed the program, and the results are impressive: 90 percent of the students who enter Skills For Life at age 14 and 15 graduate high school with 59 percent of them going on to college, with the promise of a better life. Another 19 percent go on to trade school. 

    The teens meet every day after school throughout the school year at ten centers run by PHA's community partner, the Greater Philadelphia Federation of Settlements. To stay in the program attendance is mandatory-both at school and the program. Skills for Life counselors provide help in reading, math, English and computer skills. They monitor the teens' grades and help the college-bound get scholarships. 

    The program also finds jobs for participants while they are in high school and exposes them to a range of career options. Workshops on hot topics like street violence give teens an opportunity to express themselves. 

    "The Skills for Life counselors are really outstanding," says PHA Executive Director Carl Greene. "They are true mentors and provide much more than just tutoring. If we could have a program like this for all kids, Philadelphia would be a better city for everyone to live in." 

    Look at the way Skills for Life changed Leonardo Simpkins. "I was a bad kid," admits 18-year old Leonardo, who was in trouble with the law by the time he reached the 10th grade. His cousin referred him to Skills for Life. "At that point, I was between the bad and the good," he recalls. "The program changed me personally. Once I finally figured out I was getting help, I could change." 

    In June, Leonardo graduated from Mastery Charter High School and is now beginning classes at Full Sail Real World Education program, a media arts college in Florida. He plans to succeed in the management side of the entertainment industry. 

    Amira Lucas remembers the first time she attended a Skills for Life meeting. 

    "Everyone was laughing and smiling. But no one was laughing at you," says Amira. 

    At discussion time, "We could talk about everything that's going on. They helped us get knowledge so we would know what not to do." 

    Amira was able to share her personal problems with the counselors and know "they don't tell your business to anyone else." They were like family, she says. 

    This fall Amira will be attending Millersville University studying business accounting. 

    Ramon Odom considered college a possibility, but not a priority before he started Skills for Life. The program, he says, "kept me out of trouble and put me in a positive direction." 

    He will be studying business administration when he starts Morgan State University this fall. But Ramon gained a goal more important than business success through Skills for Life-that of helping others. 

    "I hope that one day I can build my own youth organization in the community of Philadelphia, giving the younger generation a chance to be in a positive place and help them be able to grow into successful adults."

PHA's Skills For Life program has been a great success in increasing graduation rates for public housing teens.