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Inspiring Today's Youth
Krista Jacobs
Banana Factory
Jan 1, 2003
I am reminded of the story of a young boy standing on the beach near the ocean's edge, throwing starfish into the ocean. Someone questions the boy about why he is throwing the starfish back into the ocean; with millions of starfish and miles of beach the boy couldn't possibly make a difference. Reaching for another starfish and throwing it as far into the ocean as possible, the boy exclaims, "I made a difference to that one."

While it may not be easy to make a difference to all of the children in the world, it is possible to make a difference to at least one, or in Steven Truscott's case, quite a few.

We have all had a special person in our lives that opened doors and expanded our knowledge of the world. However, for inner-city youth, this may not always be the case. Steven Truscott, Program Director at the Banna Factory - a community arts center - coordinates BananaWORKS, a program designed to help inner-city youth find an escape from life on the street. He is making it possible for children to grow into their dreams.

Working in conjunction with the Private Industry Council of the Lehigh Valley, BananaWORKS is a summer employment program for at-risk teens in Bethlehem. Each summer, a group of about 20 teens are matched with a local artist from the Banana Factory who works with the youth for 6 weeks throughout the summer, helping to create community arts projects.

The purpose of the program is to teach kids valuable life and job skills. The children, ranging from age 14-18, walk away from the job with useful employment experience.

After carefully observing the children's work ethics and their ability to work with others, their social skills begin to improve. "They learn how to work as a team and they learn respect," adds Truscott. After participating in the program, the children often show improved family and peer relationships.

The program also teaches the youth about managing money. The children are paid for their work in the program. They work from 9-5, four days a week and they get paid for those hours. On the fifth day of the week, the children spend their days at the Public Industry Council building job skills and learning writing techniques, resume skills, and ways to successfully interview for a job. By participating in the program, the children also learn time managament skills. They are responsible for showing up to work on time and sucessfully utilizing their time while on the job.

One of the most important parts of the BananaWORKS program is the group's development of an idea and their ability to work through a project together. Steven Truscott, as well as a chosen Banana Factory artist, gives the group the opportunity to create their own visually artistic ideas and brainstorm ways to put their thoughts into action and watch their ideas grow. This provides the children with a sense of self-confidence. They take pride in their work and tend to carry this over to off-the-job relations.

This past summer, the BananaWORKS team designed and created a mosaic mural, which decorates the outside of the Banana Factory. The mural, made of plaster, glass and other objects, is a representation of nature and world peace. A giant fish swims near the main entrance to the building and trees and mountains can be seen elsewhere. The earth, held by a giant hand, is an excellent representation that children can do anything they put their mind to.

A community bus stop is located in the facilty's parking lot. Decorated with bottle caps, plaster and paint, the bus stop is a collaboration that the children created under the direction of Banana Factory artist Scott Atiyah. "I love to work with the kids and show them that they can do whatever it is they want - that anything is possible. And I want to encourage them to use their imagination in all that they do," says Atiyah.

A third project completed by this summer's BananaWORKS team was a promotion video for the program. After careful instrcution, the kids were left to work through the steps of the project virtually on their own.

One student from the program, Juanita O'Neil, comments on her experience, "It took a lot of time and patience to build the bus stop and record the video, but it proved to us that we could do almost anything if we want to." Students who participated in BananaWORKS left the program with several new skills including painting, building, digital editing and writing skills, among others.

BananaWORKS art can be found throughout the community at places such as the Lehigh Valley Veladrome, Lehigh Valley International Airport, Boys and Girls Club of Bethlehem, Sacred Heart Hospital and Bethlehem's Yosko Park.

The skills learned while being a part of the BananaWORKS program will last these children a lifetime. While it may seem like a large task to make a difference in the lives of all of the nation's at-risk children, Steven Truscott and Banana Factory artists are working to begin making a difference in the lives of several. It is important to realize the dreams of a child and help inspire them to work towards their goals. Truscott and Banana Factory artists realize that with the right guidance, children with an interest in visual arts may someday make their own difference in the lives of others.

They just might be found near the ocean's edge, throwing starfish back into the ocean.

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