Will work for fun

ASPIRA fills students’ week off
By T Martin

From games to movie night to overnight bowling, the sixty some-odd students that attended ASPIRA during their Spring Break enjoyed the week off from start to finish. Aspirantes, students enrolled in any of the after-school youth leadership programs of ASPIRA Inc. of Pennsylvania, might not have had school from April 5th to the 9th, but they did have things to do, places to go and people to meet!

After news that the deadline for the organization’s cheesecake fundraiser had been extended until after their Break, kids were charged and ready to go for the fun promised to them at their club meetings. However, ASPIRA also ensures an enriching leadership program through education, and students were expected to do some work to earn the fun planned for them.

Though some Aspirantes were out of town on vacation, many were still in the City and craved something to do to fill the hours before they returned to school. They figured anything would be better than staying home, including the community service project they completed on their first day of activities.

A short trip to the Norris Square section of North Philadelphia opened the week. Students pulled weeds and cleaned up trash in Olde Kensington Pavilion’s garden at 3rd and Thompson Streets. Though some thought they were there to plant the garden, Pavilion seniors in charge of the garden decided it was too cold to begin planting, that being the work of the seniors anyway. The cold helped students work more quickly and efficiently than anticipated, and the group returned to ASPIRA’s headquarters at 5th and Cayuga Streets almost an hour earlier than scheduled.

That evening, students met again to celebrate with some fun and games. There were no organized games or activities; students and facilitators just grabbed a bat, ball or rope and reveled in each other’s company until about 9 PM. DJ [name] provided an evening of music, and students that weren’t playing some game or another were dancing all over the gym floor. Knowing that the activities would work up students’ appetites, some of the facilitator’s passed up some games and dancing to prepare the food that kids and facilitators eagerly devoured.

Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons were spent at ASPIRA’s headquarters where students attended workshops on civic engagement, politics, voting, small business development, entrepreneurship, and board development. Each led by a dynamic speaker and leader in the various fields, the workshops captivated students and included interaction that allowed students to walk away with a better understanding of the topics.

Students continued their fun with movies at Franklin Mills Mall on Tuesday evening, catching the new “Starsky and Hutch” comedy. Free popcorn and plenty of legroom in the theater were added treats, students taking up as much space as they wished and enjoying some snack and soda to boot.

After Wednesday’s workshops, though, students went home with the advice that they should get some sleep before meeting again at Thunderbird Bowling Lanes on Holme Avenue at 11 PM. ASPIRA had reserved the lanes for an overnight lock-in just for the Aspirantes, including pizza, soda, snacks and a night of bowling. By 7 AM Thursday, kids and facilitators had spent most of their energy – and money – and were ready to retire from all the excitement for the week.

Besides the obvious joys of mindless games and movies that freed kids of the usual humdrum of a school week, Aspirantes also benefited from meeting some local leaders that offered them advice and insight on various community and business topics. Tuesday brought Ben Ramos, Evelyn Montalvo, and Dr. Victor Velazquez. Ramos and Montalvo joined forces to present on small business and entrepreneurship.

Ramos is the executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Montalvo is a loan officer for the Philadelphia Commercial Development Corporation. Dr. Vazquez, special assistant to Vice President for Administration, spoke to children about activism and civic engagement.

Wednesday brought State Representative Candidate Rafael Collazo to speak on the political process and how it plays into students’ lives. Oscar Oquendo followed up with a discussion on civic engagement and the importance of voting. [name] delivered an interactive presentation on board and organization development.

The week’s activities left students craving more fun and information, and the kids can’t wait until ASPIRA organizes their next series of educational and exhilarating events. Best of all, they better appreciate the virtues of working toward a common goal to maximize the rewards of hard work.