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Afterschool Academy Will Teach Career, Life Lessons for Grades 9-12

Effort by Boys & Girls Club to focus on science, technology fields

By Chris Baumann
The Tube City Almanac
September 30, 2019
Posted in: Duquesne News, McKeesport and Region News

In August, members of the LaRosa Boys & Girls Club and Duquesne-West Mifflin Boys & Girls Club participated in a STEM summer camp led by McKeesport's Blueroof Technologies. The Boys & Girls Clubs of Western Pennsylvania are opening an after-school career preparation academy in October at the former McKeesport Daily News Building, Downtown. (Photo courtesy Boys and Girls Club of Western Pennsylvania, via Facebook.)

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Western Pennsylvania is opening a Workforce Development Academy called Career Works in the beginning of October in Downtown McKeesport.

Located in the Tube City Center for Business and Innovation --- the former Daily News Building at 409 Walnut St.--- the program will primarily focus on developing career opportunities for highschool students grades 9-12.

Students from any area school district are welcome to participate and applications are being accepted online. The program will meet from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. weekdays beginning Oct. 1 through June 1.

Career Works will offer academic development, soft skill development, career coaching, internship programs and many other valuable career-related resources, said Lisa Abel-Palmieri, president and chief executive officer of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Western Pennsylvania.

“Our organization has been offering career development for over a decade, but we want to serve a broader teen demographic,” she said.  “We want to retain students past the K-8 level. In the past they have tended to lose interest in the organization due to a lack of programming for their age range.”

Students will earn stipends at the end of the program, based on their average attendance. Students who attend, on average, three days per week will earn $800; four days per week, $1,000; and five days per week, $1,200.

The Career Works program will give high school students the skills to do well academically while building toward a career the students can thrive in, said Emily Donato, career development coordinator at the Boys and Girls Club.

“The new program will have a focus on STEM fields, Information Technology, and Artificial Intelligence,” she said. “We want to show teens and young adults the scope of what [careers] are available in these areas.”

“We see ourselves as an employer-partner,” said Abel-Palmieri. “We get companies all the time that want more diversity, and [this program] can serve as a pipeline to get all kinds of kids into these fields.”

Career Works will deal with organizations that offer opportunities in the STEM fields including PPG and Carnegie Mellon Robotics, but Abel-Palmieri says the Boys and Girls Clubs will also work with trade organizations, and have met with companies like Turner Construction to create more options in different fields for students to get involved with.

“One thing I like about this program is the follow-through aspect,” said James Barry III, director of the La Rosa Boys & Girls Club, a branch of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Western Pennsylvania.

“There are a lot of programs out there that involve opportunity, but no follow-through,” he said. “We can pair these students with partners and set them up with job interviews in addition to giving them the tools to be prepared for a career.”

The Workforce Development Academy will have a heavy focus on preparing students for employment, but Donato maintains the idea that Career Works is not all about career development.

“Our goal is to assess students' needs with regards to academics, but we also want to help them develop an awareness of where they are, and where they are going,” said Donato. “We want to help them develop an ownership of social-emotional presence.”

In regards to personal development, the Boys & Girls Clubs offer an additional program called Healthy Lifestyles, “which serves to reduce risky behaviors in teens and young adults that can lead to things like teen pregnancy, drug use and domestic violence,” said Abel-Palmieri.

Healthy Lifestyles “can be useful for teens and young adults that may not be ready for or interested in Career Works, but could also prepare them to enter the Workforce Development Academy eventually,” she said.

Abel-Palmieri said a potential third program is in the works for 15 to 24-year-olds who are seeking their GED or are not interested in going to college to “help them get on the right path as well.”

The Career Works program has already received an overwhelming amount of support from the community even before beginning operations, organizers said.

“The program has received funding from a diverse array of public, private, and corporate organizations including Allegheny County, the Allegheny Foundation, and the Pennsylvania Department of Education,” said Abel-Palmieri.

The organization raised more than $890,000 through these various sources of funding, and the Boys & Girls Clubs said McKeesport officials have backed their efforts 100 percent.

“We have received nothing but support from the mayor’s office, the local government and administration,” said Abel-Palmieri. “We could not be doing this without them.”

Chris Baumann is a freelance writer from Gibsonia. He may be reached at

Originally published September 30, 2019.

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