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Eisenhart Scholar at York College finds Generations of Hope work inspiring

July 02, 2019
York College student Ileen Yeng poses for photo while suctioning infant mannequin.

Volunteering is nothing new for York College of Pennsylvania sophomore Ileen Yeng. In high school, she took part in pancake breakfasts, book drives and bake sales.

“I also did a lot of community service,” the graduate of Central York High School says. “I really saw when doing that how much people appreciate it when you’re helping them out.”

When she started college, Ileen became part of the Eisenhart Community Engagement Scholars Program. Through projects that benefit the York community, the program prepares students to become leaders who can bring about change in society.

Today, she’s working with the Generations of Hope program, an initiative that involves mentoring younger schoolchildren, and she finds her work inspiring.

“I feel such great pride,” she says. “They’re really great kids to work with. They’re happy and enthusiastic about life.”

Finding the real need

In her project-based learning exercise, which began last summer, Ileen works with students from the city’s William Penn Senior High School who have been designated York College Community Opportunity Scholars. That program helps prepare students for college and careers and offers the possibility of a full scholarship to York College.

Ileen and the William Penn students are mentoring elementary school students in the York City School District through a grant from the Women’s Giving Circle of York County Community Foundation. The scholars want to ensure that the youngsters know that their futures hold great promise.

As a freshman in the Eisenhart Scholars Program, Ileen worked with city children at the Trinity College Preparatory Academy at Trinity United Church of Christ. One Saturday a month she conducted college preparatory workshops. Some of the topics of the workshops included creative and academic writing, critical thinking, networking, dealing with identity, and communication.

This year, she researched community needs as the team of scholars explored possible projects. She took a class in entrepreneurial thinking and taught what she learned to her William Penn counterparts.

Ileen and the Opportunity Scholars met with about 30 community and church leaders as well as city school district officials and principals. That’s when they saw the need for mentoring of younger students.

A few years earlier, the William Penn scholars might have been in situations similar to those of the elementary students. The older students told Ileen they wished that someone had made them aware of what classes they should take.

The Opportunity Scholars came up with a name for the project that would help the younger students discover possibilities: Generations of Hope.

Ileen says some of the elementary students lack a perception of college and the notion that it is attainable for them.

“I feel like what they think a job is and what college is, is very different from what we experience,” she says. “We show them there are different opportunities when they grow up. They meet different college students in different majors. They hear about what they’re doing. It inspires them.”

An active schedule

For a half-day every other Wednesday, the team of scholars meets with the elementary students in small groups. Each month there is a new focus, often zeroing in on what is available in the community.

Students learned to play musical instruments in a drum circle in a multicultural lesson. They met local artist and educator Ophelia M. Chambliss and explored the world of art. In a mental health session, they learned how to minimize stress. They’ve delved into the York College archives. At the Jewish Community Center, they learned about Hebrew holidays.

And they visited York Central Market, a downtown landmark but a place where some of the mentored students had never been.

This school year they also will learn about careers in science, math, engineering, and technology, and be exposed to the dances of Nepal.

Once summer rolls around, Ileen will line up guest speakers and plan next year’s activities. She and fellow Eisenhart Scholars from her class will be involved in projects for the next two years, but she notes that the program is designed to be sustainable, and other scholars will keep it going after she graduates.

While she finds the work fulfilling in many ways, she’s continually driven to help others overcome the personal challenges in their lives.

“That encourages me to keep doing it,” she says.