Life Lessons at Urban University of Erie – News –



Faith-based Erie City Mission program helps students embrace leadership and new experiences

Acting boosted Kamaria McKinney’s confidence, brought her new friends, and renewed the 12-year-old’s faith in God.

The experience also helped McKinney embrace the concept of leadership.

“What this shows me is that if you don’t know how to do something, if you’re nervous to act or if you don’t know how to cook or whatever, you can do it and you can help others do it, ”said McKinney, a seventh-grade student at East Middle School.

McKinney performed three roles in an original play that debuted Friday night at the First Presbyterian Church of the Covenant, 250 W. Seventh St.

The production, “Unfinished,” is the culmination of a theater arts workshop at Urban University, an Erie City Mission youth leadership program that provides middle school students with a hands-on learning experience and mentorship. , and teaches them to apply faith concretely in their lives.

This summer, McKinney is among dozens of students – many from downtown Erie – who will experience horseback riding, theater, culinary arts, video production, exploring the nature and art, chemistry, robotics and aviation, among other activities, as part of the Urban University which is funded by private donations and tax credits.

“We are really trying to develop leaders,” said Steve Westbrook, executive director of the City Mission. The program, which began in 2010, also includes an after-school program during the school year.

“We don’t want this to be just a place to hang out,” Westbrook said. “It’s so dynamic, and it’s a really unique program.”

In addition to playing star roles in Friday’s play, the students also designed the sets, costumes and danced on stage. “Unfinished” takes its title from a passage in the Bible, Philippians 1: 6, which refers to accompanying God on the journey of life.

Sessions cost $ 10 for each student and take place at various locations throughout the summer. Many Urban University students sign up for multiple weeklong sessions, said RoseMarie Lackey, director of women’s and children’s ministries at the City Mission.

“We knew we had to make it very engaging to convince them,” Lackey said, adding that the adult leaders and volunteers affiliated with the City Mission are helping run the workshops. “We wanted to create experiences that amaze and challenge them, experiences where learning is fun, and experiences that make education and learning something students want.

“These students are up to the challenge,” Lackey said. “I like to say that we are developing emerging student leaders. Sometimes students don’t even realize they are leaders. We want them to understand that to be a leader you have to step out of your comfort zone. do hard things and you have to push yourself. “

Students must apply and pass a face-to-face interview to be accepted into an urban college program, Lackey said.

“It’s a contract they’re signing,” Lackey said. “We have 15 workshops this summer.… We want to know if they are willing to stretch out to get to different places.”

Giana Morgan, 10, participates in a culinary arts workshop.

“I’m learning more recipes, how to bake more, and safer ways to keep food good,” said Morgan, a sixth grader at Mother Teresa Academy.

Making macaroni and cookies, Morgan said, were highlights.

“It’s good to learn new things,” said Morgan, who will also be studying chemistry at an Urban University in East workshop later this summer. “I can make new friends and I don’t have to stay home doing nothing.”

Jake Bartko is Executive Director of Community Access Television, the city of Erie’s cable access station. He teaches a video production workshop at the Urban University in July, focusing on directing, filming and editing a TV show.

Bartko has spent the past four years working with students at the Urban University.

“It is honestly a blessing for us to be involved in this program,” said Bartko. “We teach them to create a program that broadcasts their voices and their opinions on what is going on in the world today. It does so much for the youth of downtown and this community. “

Lackey said Bartko’s involvement underscores another valuable aspect of the Urban University.

“If I can expose these students to professionals in the community in various fields, even in areas that they could potentially work in, that’s important,” Lackey said. “In everything we do here, we try to be as creative as possible. And the people who run our classes are amazing people who are really showing their desire to invest in children.”

Grace Rukundo, 14, said the reach and power of God is a constant in all of the lessons and activities of the Urban University.

Rukundo, who will be starting his first year at Erie High School in the fall, danced in the production of “Unfinished” on Friday night.

“I love being here,” Rukundo said. “We learn that God is good and that he heals people a lot. And we learn that we can do different things because he is with us.”

Kevin Flowers can be reached at 870-1693 or by email. Follow him on Twitter at



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