Nearly a decade ago, Keysha Gomez and her husband opened the doors of their home to a few local kids in their neighborhood. What started as a somewhat informal after-school program for area youth has since expanded in both size and scope, from a solely youth-oriented focus to one that offers intergenerational enrichment.
Gomez spoke with 90.5 WESA’s Elaine Effort about how H.O.P.E. for Tomorrow aims to serve both young people and attendees’ parents. Their conversation is part of our series 90.5 WESA Celebrates: 90 Neighborhoods, 90 Good Stories.
Below are excerpts of their discussion.
Their conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Gomez on how H.O.P.E. for Tomorrow came to be:
My husband and I moved here in 2010, and we had three children at the time, and we wanted something for them to be a part of—some safe haven for them to be able to go to and make friends and thrive in the community—and we quickly realized that there wasn't anything available.
So, we decided that we were just going to open our doors to the kids in the neighborhood. I have a background working with youth before I moved here, so we started off with six kids in our living room. They were coming in for character development, cooking classes. My husband's from Gambia in West Africa, so he would teach them how to make different types of food—okra stew, peanut butter stew, things like that. Play chess with them, just those types of things.
And the kids kept coming. So, someone advised that we reach out to Junior Achievement and start offering a business class, which we did. And we figured that would run all the kids away, but it didn't. You know, the numbers would multiply and triple. And we just kept going from there.
Gomez on realizing parental involvement was essential:
For a while, we were just working with the youth. And we would have kids coming in and out of our home who we barely knew their first names, and we would just, you know, have them come in and love on them and take care of them. And a lot of times their parents weren't involved just because they were working two or three jobs, or they had younger siblings, things like that.
What we realized is that you could see a child for six weeks or a year or two, and they would disappear. We would find out later that something happened to them, something negative went on in their life, there was huge crisis, and we were not there to help them.
We realized that we had to connect with them; we had to connect with their parents. So, that's what we've done with our K.E.Y.S. to the Promise program. There is a parent component, where parents have to attend parent meetings, they do have to come to our culminating events, which are held throughout the year for our different classes. And what that has done is create a connection for the child with home, school, and their out-of-school time programming, which is H.O.P.E for Tomorrow.
Gomez on how the program’s impact has extended beyond its original mission:
Our parents come in for our classes, we bring in a guest speaker who may talk about financial wellness, or a nutritionist who to talk about healthy eating. And the parents come in, and they enjoy having that. A lot of times they also learn what the kids are learning, and then we have major results.
For instance, we have kids who have started their own businesses through our entrepreneur club for kids. Some of our parents, you know, it's wowing for us to be told that they have left their jobs or needed supplemental income, and they have started their own business, which kind of came from what their child is learning. And the confidence that their child can step out and start something with their skills and talents and interests, and they were able to do it also.
So, you know, having the parents involved is beneficial to the parent, as well as to us, and truly helps us when we say, "It takes a village, and we are a village." You cannot have a village without parents involved.