More than 4,300 people in Philadelphia experienced homelessness in 2021. Of those, more than 900 were children. Children facing uncertain housing situations are often unsure of what tomorrow will look like, and unsure of who is there to help them achieve their dreams.

That is where the College Access Program at Project HOME comes in. “Students feel safe with our staff, feel safe to share challenges that they are faced with because they trust the guidance and support offered by our team,” said Lekeisha Evans, Program Director. “We are fortunate to partner with our organization’s residential programs to connect formerly homeless youth to our program services and supports, but we want all students within the city to know that they are welcome here!”

A student worker at the Project HOME clothing boutique fixes the outfit worn by a mannequin.

The College Access Program is offered to any students, regardless of their housing status. The focus for Lekeisha and her team is that students feel like they have a place to go after the school day ends.

This program, through its supportive staff and wide variety of offerings, helps students immensely. For Vania Ellison, a senior at George Washington Carver High School, her dreams are already coming true.

“So far, I have been accepted to Drexel University, Hampton University, Millersville University, and Norfolk State University. The Program has helped shape my journey in how, why, and where I have [been] applying to schools.”

The College Access Program at Project HOME is a partnership with the Philadelphia Office of Children and Families (OCF) Out-of-School Time (OST) program network. Through this service, Philadelphia youth experiencing homelessness or unstable housing have a place where they get extra support to work on creating a viable path to their future after graduation.

Students at Project HOME spend time with program sponsor Jon Bon Jovi learning about why he supports the program.

Samantha Saldana-Curet, who leads OCF’s OST programs, says Project HOME offers a wide variety of enriching activities through its College Prep OST program, ranging from math and reading support, to coding, robotics, music production, film, photography, creative arts, and much more.

“Project HOME gives youth opportunities to engage in extracurricular activities that revolve around the arts and STEM that are free of charge, while also working towards the future through our summer WorkReady program,” says Saldana-Curet.

This variety is crucial to giving students new opportunities. “Not only do electives offer students the opportunity to engage in hands-on activities, gain new skills and have a creative outlet, but they [also] connect students to alternative career and entrepreneurship opportunities,” said Evans.

Students check the lighting for their documentary film they are working on at the Project HOME College Access Program classroom.

Waleska Maldonado, Chief of Prevention for the Office of Children and Families, praised Project HOME for the effort. “Their team understands the positive impact quality OST programming has supporting youth in developing workforce readiness and college preparation, which exposes youth to experiences that are not limited by their circumstances.”

An added benefit is that students can also participate in other work programs offered through Project HOME, including their HOMEspun Clothing Boutique, the Helen Brown Community Center food pantry, and the OCF-funded WorkReady, managed by the Philadelphia Youth Network.

The College Access Program at Project HOME is part of OCF’s investment in community-based OST. OCF invests nearly $28 million in OST programs across Philadelphia. OST is the time a child or youth spends outside of the traditional school day. This includes after-school, before-school, weekend, holiday, and summer programs. Programs are offered for children and youth in grades pre-K through 12. It’s not too late to take part this school year! To find a program, use the After School and Program Locator.