Workers tend to fall into two general categories: those who work with their heads and those who work with their hands.
The mission of Evolve Youth Trades Academy is to educate young people on productive career paths that involve using their hands and their minds, while uplifting them and offering them hope.
“We believe trades are not the last opportunity, but the first choice,” said Patricia Robinson, Founder and CEO. “Without a path, students will end up on the streets or incarcerated.”
Evolve Youth Trades Academy provides middle and high school students in the Harrisburg area with training and hands-on experience in the disciplines of carpentry, plumbing, HVAC, electrical, and graphic design.
But beyond the basics, Evolve offers job training, apprenticeship programs, scholarships, life lessons, critical thinking skills, community outreach, time management training, and real world opportunities, while instilling flexibility, perseverance and determination.
Currently, Evolve works with students in the Steelton-Highspire School District, but hopes to expand its reach to other schools in the area. Evolve also maintains working relationships with the area Home Builders Association, local home services company HB McClure, and Lowe’s Home Improvement of Harrisburg.
“We want to make sure that there is access for all students and that they are able to support themselves,” Robinson said. “We have children who are not doing well and we want a level playing field. If we can give children access to opportunities, the community can thrive. We want to put the right tools in their hands so they can be proud of their durability.
Ultimately, Evolve seeks the elusive win-win-win scenario – happy and productive workers, well-staffed and profitable local businesses, and a safe and stable community.
“I have businesses coming to me and they don’t have enough staff to fill positions,” said Robinson, a 55-year-old Linglestown resident. “They tell me: ‘We are going to train them. We will pay them. It’s hard to find a job that suits everyone. People get jobs because they have to, not because they want to, and that’s unhealthy.
Four years ago, Robinson was a teacher in the Central Dauphin School District, until one day she felt “it wasn’t enough.” So, in April 2019, she founded Evolve Youth Trades Academy.
“I didn’t choose to launch Evolve,” Robinson said. “I really think it kind of chose me.”
She explained that an eighth-grader told her he planned to drop out of school, and it inspired her.
“I realized that I didn’t have enough effect in the school district,” she said. “My goal is to train young minds to create change.”
Janice Baldwin, a 17-year-old Harrisburg resident, testifies to what students can achieve. Two years ago, she was exposed to a hands-on course in a bit of everything at Evolve, discovering a proclivity for carpentry. She also learned a bit about herself.
“I love working with my hands and meeting new people,” Baldwin said. “School is like a family environment. I think there is power in trust. I don’t think people should be put off by other people’s doubts and opinions, because you know yourself better than anyone.
There is no requirement for acceptance, just an open mind and a natural curiosity for learning. The school accepts students from the age of 12.
“We are looking for underserved and marginalized students who are interested in trades,” Robinson said. “Not all students are academically inclined. Often, students’ imaginations are stifled. Crafts lead to creativity. There isn’t just one path to success.
Because when their options are limited, student growth is stunted. Faced with decisions that will affect the rest of her life, Baldwin, for her part, does not close any doors.
“I plan to go to Penn State-Harrisburg and major in biology or science,” she said. “After I finish my years at Penn State, I plan to get certified in carpentry. I am positioned for both. I see no reason to get rid of it.
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