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Chester County Press

Editorial: Two garages of empowerment

08/03/2021 12:42PM ● By Richard Gaw

What we do for ourselves dies with us. What we do for others and the world remains and is immortal.”

Albert Pike

Just for a moment, imagine a young person not in the form of a burgeoning adult but rather as a masterpiece in the making that is perched on an easel, in a studio space dotted by artists' paintbrushes all thick with paint.

Now imagine that the young person lives in southern Chester County.

The work is still incomplete, but look around at the unfinished art. In a role that had once been exclusively reserved for parents and teachers, the studio is now a crowded space – an entire community of artists and architects gathered in a collaborative endeavor to develop the lives of young people who are both educated and kind, curious and empowered, and whose sphere of influence extends to his or her peers and the world beyond.

In 2001, local business leader and visionary Mike Bontrager partnered with other members of the Kennett Square community to form The Garage Community and Youth Center in an effort to empower youth to pursue their potential. Housed in a former garage on Union Street, a second center opened in West Grove in 2011, and over the last 20 years, those who have been associated with The Garage – tutors and mentors and volunteers – have each applied the brushstrokes needed to nurture the journeys of thousands of young people in our community.

The Garage Community & Youth Center can be measured by the many lives they have helped to inspire over the past two decades, but when whittled down, it is an achievement that happens quietly, with little fanfare. That said, please allow this newspaper to open the doors of The Garage Community & Youth Center locations and provide evidence of their impact:

  • It is seen in their emphasis on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics) programming that encourages young people to strengthen their critical thinking skills.

  • It is seen in their Girl’s and Boys programs, which promote personal, intellectual, social and emotional development.

  • It is seen in their community service activities that encourage young people to imagine themselves as not just an individual but as a part of a broader world.

  • It is seen in the work of their volunteers who assist students with after-school homework, including developing their English language skills.

  • It is seen in their Nutrition Kitchen, that provides meals for students twice a week that are made on site at the Garage locations, and teaches them the fundamentals of food preparation.

  • It is seen in their Self Care program, that provides students with therapeutic tools to navigate complex emotions and feelings and form practical healthy relationship skills with oneself and others.

  • It is seen in their Motivating, Advancing, Powerful Students (MAPS) and TRAILS programs, that advise and counsels students as they prepare for life after high school, that provides assistance in submitting college applications, resume writing, networking and obtaining information about academic scholarships.

  • It is seen in their Career Compass program, an eight-week paid summer internship experience that connects students to businesses and organizations that are linked to their career interests and aspirations.

On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of The Garage Community & Youth Center, the Chester County Press thanks Executive Director Kristin Proto, former Executive Director Patti Olenik, and the staff, mentors and volunteers for the contributions they have made to our young people, to the community, and to the thousands of masterpieces it has lent a brushstroke to.

Slug: editorial aug. 4