High school drop outs mentored by Harrisburg leaders

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Young people looking to get a second chance received some help from Harrisburg City leaders.

Because he’s often grilled by City Council members, Mayor Eric Papenfuse took to his presenters chair dubbed the “hot seat.” On Monday afternoon, Harrisburg’s mayor may have been asked the toughest questions of his administration from an unlikely panel: high school dropouts.

Students involved in a YWCA program called YouthBuild sat in the council’s chairs and questioned Papenfuse much like their elected officials would. Instead of budget talk, students asked the mayor about life lessons.

YWCA of Harrisburg’s YouthBuild program began last year and is funded through a $900,000 grant over a three-year period. The program helps young adults 18 to 25 earn a General Education’s Diploma and gain employment. YouthBuild has 35 current members and organizers said their goal is to help 50.

Police Detective Gabe Olivera discussed his background growing up in Brooklyn, New York and his path to become a police officer, which stunned some of the students. Olivera went as far as to tell deeply personal stories of perseverance.

“My girlfriend became pregnant when I was 17,” he said. “And, I did the right thing and I got married at 17 years old.”

Instead of living a life of crime, Olivera eventually become one of Harrisburg Police Department’s top detectives. He also discussed the importance of training and education, which seemed to have inspired student Michael Acevado.

“It’s inspired me a lot,” said Acevado. “It’s encouraging me to wanting to do more for myself and be involved into a lot of activities.”

Fire Chief Brian Enterline shared the many paths people can take in public safety and firefighting.

“Being a firefighter is more than just fighting fires,” he said. “I don’t think people understand that side of the business.”

One student who wanted to be a pastry chef said she was intrigued hearing that fire departments are always looking for culinary talents.

As for Enterline, he said if at least one student is inspired or reached, that’s all that matters.

“We all win from being able to portray some things they may not have had exposure to in school without talking to us,” he said.

Kialena Clark, who aspires to be a teacher, said the experience of hearing many city leaders pull through mistakes to become successful was greatly helpful.

“It’s bettering me, it’s helping out,” she said. “It’s getting me to where I need to go.”

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