New possibility for at-risk teens

Students work on video project in Toyota Connections program

Students work on video project in Toyota Connections program.

Toyota, Urban League connect to teens

through technology, peace building

BOND HILL – The bullet hole in the window and gouge in the drywall where police removed a slug are reminders of the world outside for these 11 teen-agers.

So is the roll call of names of friends who’ve died in gunfire in recent weeks on Cincinnati streets: Nathaniel Scott Jr., 15 … Robin Pearl, 18 … Justin Crutchfield, 18.

The 11 Cincinnati high school students comprise the summer Toyota Making Connections class, co-sponsored by the Greater Cincinnati Urban League and City of Cincinnati, at Woodward Career Technical High School. For two hours a day, they are learning advanced technology – circuitry, programming, 3-dimensional printing, milling machines – before switching gears for another two hours of peace-building and job-readiness training.

These 11 teens are among the 265 employed through the Greater Cincinnati Urban League’s Summer Youth Employment program, paid for by a city grant. This particular group of students meets downstairs at Woodward, adjacent to its advanced manufacturing lab, before walking upstairs for peace building in the school’s media center. It’s there they see the remnants of a recent shooting spree, including a window pane so badly shattered that it has been replaced by plywood.

“Everyone in the community I live in,” said 17-year-old Niehah Alfqaha of Avondale, one of the 11, “we know we’re not going to see 20. Everybody’s just trying to get some money. That’s why all the shooting’s happening. Once I’m done here, I go straight home. I’m paranoid. A bullet ain’t got no eyes. No one hesitates to shoot.

“It’s by the grace of God I’m still alive.”

Through June 20, Cincinnati had experienced 36 homicides, compared to 37 in the same period in 2014. Shooting victims, however, are up 29.1 percent, from 165 in 2014 to 213 this year, according to Cincinnati Police data.

Still, against such odds, these 11 students work this summer for their futures, making plans that now include the possibility of engineering or technology.

Toyota commits resources

The relationship between Woodward and Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing, Erlanger, Ky., dates to 2012, when engineer Andy Inman of its Maintenance, Standards & Parts staff started to mentor students.

Earlier this year, Inman worked with his division leadership team to develop the Woodward Summer Intern Technician Program. The goal is to show students a real-world application of how an idea can start simply but evolve in a few weeks into a problem-solving method. Up to five Toyota employees, including classroom teacher David Ford, an engineer, are on site at Woodward each day.

What started June 2 will culminate July 9 with the presentation of T-shirts and a group photo and July 10 with a brunch and graduation ceremony at Woodward.

For Niehah, who will attend Woodward or Hughes STEM High School – a science, technology, engineering and mathematics curriculum – the Making Connections program has “introduced me to a new world. … Most of us are now considering doing something with engineering.”

She has experience hanging drywall and doing electrical work through the Lawn Life youth employment program. Niehah plans to attend Cincinnati State Technical and Community College to study project management and construction.

She and her classmates are currently working in teams designated as lights, sound and motion to develop a video that combines the various technologies they’ve studied this summer.

Kish Richardson, 15, of Golf Manor, who will be a junior at Walnut Hills High School, worked this week on motion for the video. He plans to attend Ohio State University for a bachelor’s degree in philosophy before going to Harvard Law School. He wants to be a merger-and-acquisitions lawyer.

“It has opened me up to a new experience,” Kish said of the program.

`We’re not all ‘hood rats’

The Greater Cincinnati Urban League is providing the site coordinator, Deborah Brock-Blanks, as well as travel expenses and students’ hourly wage, part of the summer youth employment program the local league runs through the City of Cincinnati grant.

In conjunction with Toyota, Woodward is a summer worksite for these 11 students, who earn $8.10 an hour. The peace-building curriculum comes through the Greater Cincinnati Urban League’s Community Police Partnering Center – created as part of the 2002 Collaborative Agreement – that provides resources and techniques for community residents and the police to work together to solve neighborhood crime problems. Peace building, once its own program, has evolved into a philosophy that the local Urban League uses in all of its youth programs.

“This program has broadened their perception of themselves,” Brock-Blanks said. “They see themselves as more capable and able to take a more optimistic view of their lives. They think they are terribly at risk and are trying to stay out of the way.

“We have seen more personal responsibility emerge. You see leadership and a self-management coming out.”

Ramelo Robinson, 17, of Elmwood Place, who will be an Aiken High School junior, plans on being a nurse but has enjoyed the technology-peace building program more than he had anticipated.

More than engineering, he has learned about himself. “I have a lot of self-respect,” Ramelo said. “I know I can make my neighborhood better. I can talk to people. I can keep the streets clean. I can’t stop all the drugs, but maybe I can steer some young folks in a more positive direction.”

He works 21-25 hours a week, usually 5 p.m. to midnight, at the McDonald’s restaurant in Walnut Hills. Yet despite his work ethic, ambition and productive summer, he says he knows that many outsiders view him and his classmates through a lens fogged with negative stereotypes.

“We have unique thoughts and emotions,” Ramelo said. “We’re not all ‘hood rats.”


These Companies are Transformational Supporters of the Urban League’s Corporate Heritage Annual Giving Program.