By: Ariel Cochran
Sitting in a natural-light classroom filled with a variety of high school students, Marie King, Family Resource Center Coordinator at the YWCA, teaches her youth about corporate businesses and their engagements. Lessons in business and success entice the students. They’re eager and unafraid to raise questions or shout out answers.
These students make up King’s group, Creating Responsible Educated Working Teens (CREW). The vision of this program is to give teenagers of the Woodlawn area of Birmingham soft work skills and introduce them to enrichment opportunities. The group works around the community Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays by cutting grass around the neighborhood, working at the Woodlawn Library and cooking lunch for the entire group.
The group does not solely focus on landscaping and volunteering. King takes the program a step further with enrichment opportunities every Thursday.
C.R.E.W recently went to see the race exhibit of the McWayne Center. On June 20, they will visit the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and will be able to see the archives, which many visitors are don’t have the opportunity to see. Students will also get to tour the 16th Street Baptist Church. The students recently discovered that there were five girls instead of four in the church bombing.
King explained that her vision was to introduce her group to things they would not have been exposed to.
“Every school does not have equal resources and I am somebody that grew up in Ensley, but attended an all-white high school. So, I have been places and seen things,” she said.
King attended the University of Alabama in Birmingham but switched to Beulah Heights University where she earned a degree in urban development. She also earned a degree in leadership development at Luther Rice University.
“I grew more through college,” she said.
King said that she uses her teenage memories to help her relate to her class. She knows how to keep their minds stimulated and focused on projects and leadership lessons because she was once a distracted teenager who hated school. She wants CREW to be an open and trusting environment.
King said that GPA scores or grades are not necessary for the application process.
This year CREW received fifty applications, but only had 20 open spots. King looks for nothing in particular in applicants and interviews aren’t interrogations that involve stiff-resume reading, but instead through comfortable conversation.
“I just want to know if they are good kids and actually want to work,” King said.
Once the application process is over, students conduct ice-breaking activities as they build the vital family relationship they all share. One activity includes students holding a brick in their hand, representing baggage. Students then share their baggage to the entire group.
“Even the boys were openly crying.” King comments.
King said that that the Woodlawn area loves the teenage assistance
“People are starting to invest more in Woodlawn. The area is really improving,” said Veronica Wiggins
from Cornerstone School, a private school in Woodlawn. Community members are happy to see youth get off the streets and steer away from gang violence and drugs, King said.
Although King explained that students do not openly express the impact of their volunteer work on their lives, she does notice the changes in their personalities and how they carry themselves.
“Leadership and work should go hand in hand,” she said, “I want to instill respect and leadership in this group.”
These “unstable creatures,” King’s humorous term for teenagers, are a bright stepping-stone towards the uplifting of Woodlawn’s future. Although this group is making an impact on the community, it cannot change Woodlawn for the better on their own.
“We can’t do this by ourselves,” King says solemnly, “I can’t do this by myself. We need more organizations for the youth and the community.”