- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 9, 2001

This is the first of a new feature that publicizes the words and works of good people in our community. Their voices are seldom heard in the torrent of sensational news, their successes are seldom noticed publicly, but they contribute mightily to our quality of life. We present this forum at least twice a month to recognize and support their good deeds.

Denise Barnes interviewed Philip McGovern, president of the Youth Leadership Foundation.

Question: What is the Youth Leadership Foundation?
Answer: We are a faith-based initiative that has been working in the D.C. area for the past eight years. We were started by members of the traditional Catholic organization Opus Dei as a service to the Washington community to help economically disadvantaged youth.
We offer supplemental educational programs for seventh- to 12th-grade students who are academically average — the forgotten child. These are children who desperately need our help.
The average middle school student living in the District begins high school unprepared and has only a mediocre chance of graduating. Per the D.C. public school system in the year 2000, 58 percent of its seventh- and eighth-graders could not perform at grade levels on standardized tests.
Today, we offer two summer programs: the Tenley Achievement Program [TAP] for boys and the Program for Academic and Leadership Skills [PALS] for girls, which are held on the campuses of Catholic University and George Washington University, respectively. Our programs are offered to boys and girls regardless of race, color or religious affiliation. Our educational programs do not end once the school year begins — we also offer Saturday morning academic and character building classes on a smaller scale.
There are terrific resources being devoted to the most troubled youth with drug counseling, literacy and gang-prevention programs. There are also terrific programs for the best and the brightest students. Our program is focused on the average child, believing they offer promise for great success.
Q: How do you define an average student?
A: The average student is one who is neither failing nor excelling and is therefore often neglected. They are not offered the financial resources that they need. Look at the statistics for the District. The high school dropout rate remains one of the highest in the country. One out of three students never finishes high school. Between the troubled youth and the best and the brightest is the average child who holds tremendous promise. The average student is the largest group in this disadvantaged segment. So, if you make an impact with them, you're going to have a significant return. Develop the average child and you make the difference between a shop worker and an engineer, between a secretary and a business executive.
The other important element about this group is their enthusiasm. The children respond to the attention they are being paid, and parents are enthusiastic and grateful.
Q: How important is parental participation in TAP and PALS?
A: Parents are key in the development of their children, so we encourage parent participation with parent seminars and discussions with their child's counselor over the course of the six-week summer program. The boys' program and the girls' program each have parent associations, and they meet regularly to talk about issues that are relevant to the formation of their child's character and academic future. We get important input from the parents to determine what their children need to succeed.
Q: What makes this program unique?
A: Our purpose is to develop leaders with a keen sense of responsibility to their communities. This is what we desperately need community leaders and role models with a spirit of service.
Today's culture is self-absorbed. We as a society seem to be focused on acquiring material possessions. And it's very shortsighted. You may be happy for a moment, but quickly that thing recently acquired loses its luster.
We believe that God put us here to serve a purpose in helping others and that each of us is a gift from God and has an important role to play. To that end, Youth Leadership Foundation focuses on developing the total person, not only their intellect, but their character as well. We expect great things from the students. We offer one-on-one counseling in conjunction with parental involvement. We provide solid academic training in math, science, English and history. Sports and drama complement our character-development classes by teaching teamwork and sportsmanship.
Q: What has been the response to Youth Leadership Foundation since its inception?
A: Each year since 1993, we've experienced steady growth of about 20 percent in enrollment from students primarily living in the District. We are forced to turn children away each year due to lack of resources. This summer we have about 200 youth participating in both of the programs. Seventy-five percent of the kids who complete the summer program improve their GPA.
Q: How is that accomplished?
A: Classes are relatively small so each student can receive individual attention. The one-on-one counseling serves many purposes, including helping youth with their academic training. So a child who may be struggling in math can work with his or her counselor on an individualized basis until they master the work. What we are finding is we demand a lot from the students and we get a lot. The more you ask, the more you get.
This goes back to the uniqueness of the program. The parents' involvement is very important here in terms of the child's performance. Counselors can call parents at any time to make sure they're doing their assigned homework and keeping up with classwork. So we have parents as allies. This also goes back to the notion that you are working with a group that has been overlooked and it is very responsive to the attention.
Ninety-seven percent of our kids complete high school; 75 percent go to college. Perhaps, one of the greatest testatments to our success is the number of students who want to come back to the program as coaches and other junior volunteers. That spirit of service is reciprocated. Now they're helping their communities and serving as role models. That's what we're trying to instill in the children.
Q: Does the Youth Leadership Foundation get referrals from other social service programs?
A: Yes we do. Youth who found themselves in trouble with the legal system and were brought before Chief Judge Eugene Hamilton were referred to TAP one of his responses to get these children back on track was to send them to our program. This is his quote: "This program is excellent. We need to make it available to more children." That's how Judge Hamilton sees us. He sends youngsters even now that he's retired. The judge continues to be involved with us and support us by talking to others about the program.
Q: How much does it cost to attend the summer program?
A: The cost per child is about $800 for the summer program. However, we ask about 20 percent, or $225, from parents. Financial aid is available, and that's made possible through the generosity of our donors. For example, this summer 15 girls participating in the PALS program who attend the Washington Middle School for Girls in Anacostia received scholarships from Blessed Sacrament Church in Northwest.
Q: What does Youth Leadership Foundation need right now?
A: We need money. Without it we cannot support the growth in demand for our services. Without it we cannot retain the talent we need to direct the programs and to provide the teaching and counseling skills that make the difference.
We also need your prayers. This is good work and it's hard work. Our teachers, program directors and volunteers need your prayers to sustain them in their efforts. We're all better for them.

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