Chestnut Hill’s Teenagers Inc. places young people in the community to provide services to residents in need. In turn, neighbors aid the organization in its fundraising efforts, working together to provide members of Teenagers Inc. with rewarding experiences.
The Teen Center, located at 105 Bethlehem Pike, was donated to director, Marianne Dwyer, in 2001 by a local benefactor. It now serves as the home base for the organization and a safe space for resident teenagers to hang out on Friday and Saturday nights.
“This Teen Center is free of charge. We pay no rent or utilities on the building and it is a gathering space now for the kids. We operate all of our meetings out of here,” Dwyer said. She started the organization in her home in 1996.
Teenagers Inc. is in place to fill the void of activities for young people in the Northwest, explained Dwyer. “There were sports but no social activities or service activities for teens to participate in where they could join with students from other schools,” she said.
Reaching out to youth in the Northwest
The group’s mission is to include all young people who live, attend school or worship in the community.
Carlos Diaz has been a member of Teenagers Inc. for four years. The senior at La Salle College High School said that the diversity of young people involved in the organization – from different schools, races and religions – is what he finds most attractive.
“It’s a very youth-centered organization,” Diaz said. “The youth are kind of instructing the youth in that everyone is just helping each other out. It’s not like some adults are coming in and telling us what to do – we plan what we do. We fundraise for what we want to do and it’s just great to have this responsibility.”
Diaz has increased responsibilities as a member of the high school board, which plans on behalf of that age group. The board works with Dwyer to help set up meetings, organize service trips, plan events and hustle behind the scenes to help the organization run efficiently.
Dominique Veney has been a member of Teenagers Inc. since seventh grade and on the high school board for three years.
“We do brainstorm everything and we think about how we can create projects that benefit the community in a healthy and good way,” said Veney, a junior at Philadelphia High School for Girls. “We don’t think of just fun activities we can do, we think about the service.”
The heart of the organization is its dedication to service in the community and beyond.
“The service work can be anything where we’re helping the Mt. Airy/Chestnut Hill community on a project,” Dwyer said. “We also have our own service projects we do that are beyond the community realm. We work in the homeless network in Camden and in Philadelphia. We go to soup kitchens and help [serve food]. We run a huge international service trip to Guatemala, which we started five years ago.”
Tyler Jordan Perry, a junior at Philadelphia University and a former Teenagers Inc. member, is now an intern for the organization. He attended the first service trip to Guatemala.
“The year I went, there were three different teams and three different families that we each built a better house for,” Perry said.
“Also, we did clothing drives and helped in soup kitchens. We lived with a host family and we really got to soak up a lot of the Guatemalan culture while we were there for nine days,” Perry continued.
Teenagers Inc. does all of its own fundraising. The organization holds annual events that go towards operational costs and the Guatemala trip. They are also funded by grants from organizations such as the Chestnut Hill Community Association, the Philadelphia Activity Fund and private donors.
During the annual Taste of Chestnut Hill fundraiser, the organization provides the community with food from businesses on Germantown Avenue. During this event, patrons come for dinner and donate to Teenagers Inc.
Veney said this is her favorite project, noting that it’s nice to see how many people in the community lend their support.
“It’s really fun because we’re working the event. It’s us kids and we’re up front saying this is what we do and this is what we’re about. We put in the hard work and the effort and at the Taste of Chestnut Hill it just pays off,” she said.
Friday nights at the Teen Center
Many junior high school students head to the Teen Center on Friday nights to hang out with their friends outside of school and without their parents around. However, the consensus among the high school-aged supervisors is that the younger students keep coming back because of the rewarding service aspect.
“They say there’s no such thing as an unselfish good deed and I think that’s kind of true,” Perry said. “I love to help people because it makes me feel good about myself and allows me to learn more about what I could be doing to give…and that’s why I work through this organization.”
Nichole Baldino and Greg Paone are students at Temple University. This piece was produced for Temple’s Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab in collaboration with WHYY/NewsWorks.