The Civic Engagement Academy (CEA) is a training program that provides community members with the tools needed to create lasting positive change. The trainings are meant to support local problem-solving that is driven by community members themselves. The “CEA Takeaways” series features testimonials from attendees.


  • Just 9 percent of youth from low-income families receive a four-year degree.

  • Only 16 percent of low-income children say they can trust others, and almost 40 percent have never had an adult mentor of any kind.

  • Children from low-income housing have less than $1,000 a year spent on out-of-school enrichment activities, compared to over $7,000 from wealthier households.



The DREAM Program is dedicated to dismantle the above statistics—closing the opportunity gap for children in low-income households by boosting educational expectations and aspirations, building trusting relationships, and investing in extended learning opportunities. Philadelphia Program Director Jay McFadgen and AmeriCorps member Talia Giles attended the CEA Learning Series on Targeting and Recruitment to learn how they can reach their goal of increasing participation in The DREAM Program.

Coming from a background in service with AmeriCorps NCCC, Jay has been with The DREAM Program for four years. At The DREAM Program, Jay worked with his team of three VISTAs to lead college students in volunteering to give back to their campus communities. Volunteers serve as role models and mentors to youth at four different sites in low-income neighborhoods: Fairhill Apartments, Cecil B. Moore Village, West Park, and Beckett Gardens. The DREAM Program also has summer programming that engages youth in learning leadership skills, meeting new people, and connecting them with the outdoors. Jay says that community engagement is what makes The DREAM Program successful: “Without the support of families and neighbors, we can’t be successful…that’s the bread and butter right there.”

Jay was joined by Talia—a State and National AmeriCorps member and 2018 Arcadia University alum, who works as the Program Empowerment Director managing the Fairhill Apartments community site. Jay and Talia specifically attended the Targeting and Recruitment training because they are expanding to a new program site. In order to build out a teen-specific program in a specific neighborhood, they recognize that they must be able to engage the right communities and partners.

Their goal is to increase their resiliency around cultivating parent relationships by making parent engagement sustainable. Talia says that “Sometimes doors get slammed in your face…” but also reflects that “…when you get those families and parents who are invested in our mission and really want to engage with us—that really appreciate the work we’re doing—it’s a reminder that this work makes a real difference and has an impact.”

Jay is looking forward to taking what he has learned in this training back to his staff so that everyone can be involved in the recruitment strategy. He will begin by backward planning from their end goal. Additionally, Talia is excited to implement the benchmarking process with targeting and recruitment. By using numbers as real goals to guide their work, and using those goals to hold volunteers and coworkers accountable, their team will certainly see success.