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Black Achievers program at Hagerstown Y plans to help youths find a career path

September 29, 2008|By HEATHER KEELS

HAGERSTOWN -- This year, the Black Achievers program at the Hagerstown YMCA will introduce minority youths to careers in business, medicine, arts and culture, law, government and engineering, program director Deborah Phillips announced Sunday at a kickoff picnic at Fairgrounds Park.

The youth mentoring program meets every other Sunday from 3 to 5 p.m. and is open to students in grades six through 12, Phillips said. Students in this year's program will take field trips to the U.S. Capitol building and an underground railroad site in Lancaster, Pa., and will participate in Martin Luther King Jr. and Black History Month celebrations and an awards gala, she said.

About 30 people attended Sunday's picnic, where new and former program participants and mentors got to know each other through ice-breaker games such as "two truths and a lie," and a survey scavenger hunt. Participants also tested their knowledge of famous black achievers such as Colin Powell, Halle Berry and Muhammad Ali with a game in which they asked questions to guess which name was written on a sticker on their back.

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"This is just a fun day and we hope to bring awareness to the community, and give them a chance to ask questions about the program," Phillips said.

The national Black Achievers program was started in 1971 in Harlem, N.Y., and Hagerstown has offered it off and on since the 1980s, Phillips said. Since the current Hagerstown YMCA program was restarted in 2004, all of its participants have graduated from high school and about two-thirds have gone on to college, she said. Three others have joined the military.

"That's a great success," she said.

Krisandra Davis, 17, of Hagerstown, said participating in the program last year helped her narrow her interest in the medical field and decide to focus on nursing.

"It's a good program to figure out what you want to do when you grow up," said Leila Swayne, 16, of Hagerstown, who participated in the program for three years and has decided she wants to be an obstetrician. Swayne said the group's visit to Howard University also was interesting.

Zac Martin, 14, of Hagerstown, said he was looking forward to the field trips and hoped to learn more about how to pursue a computer-related career.

Earnestine Johnson of Hagerstown, the program's engineering mentor, said she thought the Black Achievers program was an excellent way for students to get ahead.

"When I was their age, I didn't have that exposure to be able to have someone show you where these opportunities are and ... show you what they do," Johnson said.

Johnson, who works as a power plant design engineer for Bechtel Corp. in Frederick, Md., plans to let students try out design software, guide them as they design and build model roller coasters, and answer questions about how to get started in engineering.

The program's first session will be Oct. 12 from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Hagerstown YMCA, Phillips said. The program costs $50 for YMCA members and $75 for nonmembers, but scholarships are available, she said.

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