YORK, Pa. (WHTM) — For some 10th-grade students, the idea that they’re thinking about college might not be news. But for Nizyiah Penn?
“I was in my freshman year of high school,” she said. “I was in a lot of fights, and it wasn’t going right.”
But now she’s with other teens on an “opportunities tour,” at the Skillet2Plate Soul Bistro when we met her, listening to advice from the successful African-American owner of the restaurant. Earlier, they visited York College and Penn State York; later would be an Army recruiter and then WellSpan Health.
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It’s a new initiative at a longstanding organization — dating to 1979 — called “It’s About Change.”
“At first I was like — I wasn’t sure about doing it,” Penn said. “But then I just did it. And then they gave Miss Kiuana, and I liked her. We bonded quick.”
She’s talking about Kiuana Henderson, It’s About Change’s youth outreach specialist.
“We have students that come in with some challenges, but along the way, they progress upward,” Henderson said. “And we’re excited to see those changes. We’re not looking for perfection. We’re looking for progress.”
AliceAnne Frost, the organization’s executive director, said It’s About Change has helped “countless” at-risk children as well as adults.
“We’ve seen clients go from incarceration to homeownership to having careers,” Frost said.
Folks like teachers or York police identified the teens on the tour as being at risk because of factors such as having lost a loved one or getting bullied or having other trouble at school.
One of those York police officers is Sydney Bennett, who accompanied the group.
“I have a very soft spot for ‘youngins’ like myself because I still think I’m young too!” Bennett said (And indeed, Bennett appeared closer in age to the students than to, say, the reporters covering the story.)
She said going back to York College, where she first felt inspired to pursue a criminal justice degree and become a police officer — but this time with this group of students, there for some inspiration of their own — was an experience she’ll remember and one she’ll be happy to repeat.
“This has been one of the best days of my working career so far,” Bennett said.
Frost and Henderson said they hope to take future groups of students on similar “opportunities tours” twice a year.