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Mon Valley Bridge program aids at-risk teens, young adults

| Friday, Aug. 19, 2011

Mon Valley Bridge is helping at-risk teens and young adults cross over to success by introducing participants to productive adults living and working in their communities.

The McKeesport-based education and employment program, an affiliate of ResCare Workforce Services, offers a transitional program for 16- to 21-year-olds who have dropped out of high school or are served by Allegheny County Children, Youth and Families.

Beyond its primary focus of preparing participants to earn their GEDs, Mon Valley Bridge offers literacy programs, career-oriented work skills sessions, life skills lessons and opportunities for paid employment.

'We want them to know that getting their GED is just the beginning,' youth coach Chris Preston said. 'This is where it starts, not where it ends.'

With that in mind, organizers often invite members of McKeesport`s government and its business community to speak about personal experiences growing up and working in the communities that participants know well.

On Thursday, Mon Valley Bridge welcomed McKeesport council President Michael Cherepko to speak about his upbringing in the city as well as his education, work experience and public service.

Invited to the program by former classmate Kimberly Turner, who is now an administrative assistant with Mon Valley Bridge, Cherepko reminisced about his time at Francis McClure Intermediate and McKeesport Area High schools. He talked about furthering his education at Penn State University, having started at the McKeesport campus before moving on to University Park.

Cherepko returned to his hometown after college and began working in the same schools where he learned.

Participants were engaged in the talk — asking questions about city government, about teacher perspectives in the classroom and about Cherepko`s life experiences.

Participant Vendell Nasir, 18, of McKeesport, asked Cherepko about his first job.

'I was a paper boy,' Cherepko said. 'I was maybe 7 years old. I was so young that I couldn`t even go by myself; my grandfather went around with me delivering newspapers.'

Those enrolled in Mon Valley Bridge`s summer work program jokingly compared the delivery job to their current duties with McKeesport Housing Authority, saying the manual labor is rough.

Cherepko played on their humor and talked about his next job on the city`s summer work crew.

'All the yellow curbs in town, we cleaned them and painted them,' Cherepko said. 'It was hard work, and it was a learning experience. If we did a good job, they called us back to work the next summer.'

Mon Valley Bridge director Malik Swain said many of the program`s summer workers are on their first jobs this summer.

'Work is a new experience,' Swain said. 'We`re giving them a chance to spend a few months working part time and to earn a paycheck.

'We want them to see what hard work can get them. We want them to see that there is a bigger picture. You might not see it today, but tomorrow it might be important.'

Nasir said guest speakers are often insightful and share things that participants can apply to their own lives.

'We`re learning that anything can be accomplished,' he said. 'If you have a passion for something, you can succeed in doing it. Anyone can do anything if they try.'

Mon Valley Bridge is about making a connection for area youth. The goal is to empower young people to take their future into their own hands, and that`s something the city of McKeesport is backing.

'As an educator, I`ve learned how to relate to children and young adults,' Cherepko said.

Motivating today`s youth was one of Cherepko`s platforms as he earned Democratic nomination for the city`s mayoral seat during the spring primary election. He seeks to instill pride in McKeesport and its people.

Mon Valley Bridge is located at 336 Shaw Ave., McKeesport. For more information, call 412-948-1800.

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