Lifelong Mantua resident Dwayne Walker never touched a computer before stepping into the Dornsife Center. Now, he not only knows how to navigate the Internet, but he also communicates regularly via his brand new email address with family, friends and colleagues he has met through Dornsife. While taking computer classes at Dornsife’s KEYSPOT, Walker said he regularly “checked out” the Dornsife information table. It was there that he discovered a flyer seeking local residents to become Family Ambassadors for Drexel’s West Philadelphia Early Childhood Education Initiative (WPECE), a Drexel-led partnership of community and education stakeholders working to improve the quality of early childhood education in the neighborhood. The Family Ambassador program is a collaboration between Drexel and the People’s Emergency Center. Walker was selected because of his strong connection to the community and active involvement in taking care of his five grandchildren as well as nieces and nephews.
As a Family Ambassador, Walker promotes the importance of quality early childhood education to local parents through one-on-one discussions, staffing info tables at events, assisting at local childcare centers, coordinating Kindergarten registration open houses for local schools and working with other Family Ambassadors to spread the word about the importance of children reading by third grade. Research shows that children who read by third grade are more likely to graduate from high school, less likely to be incarcerated, and more likely to attend college (University of Chicago, 2010). At the Dornsife Center KEYSPOT, Walker also completed the three-hour online Mandated Reporter training to understand procedures for reporting child abuse – required to become a Family Ambassador.
As a result of Walker’s enthusiasm and commitment to the WPECE mission, he was recently promoted to Parent Navigator, which allows him to act as a liaison between other Family Ambassadors and WPECE partners. However, he has not allowed this promotion to go to his head. “I’m just a guy who is doing what I am doing because it’s the right thing to do,” said Walker. “My motivation is seeing these children learn and grow.”
Walker’s connection to the community goes back to his days as a student at McMichael School and continues today through his membership at Metropolitan Church and as a line cook at Chris’ Pizza. Walker admitted to some negative detours in his life, but he successfully earned a GED and raised four daughters with his wife, who unfortunately passed away a year ago. After her death, Walker said he sunk into depression. He credits his sister with pushing him to “get busy” to overcome the sadness from his wife’s death. That’s when he decided to check out the Dornsife Center.
“People who don’t use the center are missing out on a good opportunity,” Walker said. As he watched the Dornsife buildings undergo renovations last year, Walker, who lives just two blocks from the Center, said he never suspected the Center would have such a positive impact on his life. Not only has be learned how to use the computer, but he also participates in financial literacy classes through Clarifi and received tax assistance through Campaign for Working Families. “It’s an inspiration to have the Dornsife Center,” said Walker, “and wonderful for Drexel to take initiative in our community.”