Verticals Community Learning Center giving local students more opportunities | Helping the Helpers
James said they hope to expand their offerings further with donations. He hopes to buy additional robotics equipment and to transform one of their rooms to launch an eSports center
In this file photo, William James, former NFL player and founder of Team Humanity, stands with Kylie Jackson, Team Humanity team member, in front of the youth community center, Verticals.
By Alyssa Choiniere
Verticals Community Learning Center is expanding rapidly in its second year after launching in Brownsville to provide more opportunities for youth in underserved communities with classes including robotics, drones and sports.
William James, a Brownsville native and former NFL player, returned to his hometown and opened the center in May 2021. He heads both Verticals and its sibling nonprofit, Team Humanity, to provide educational opportunities for local students they might not receive at school.
“We have been very active in our community,” James said. “We have been doing everything from STEM to teaching gardening and workforce development.”
Team Humanity is an after-school program offering a range of activities including sports, computer skills, storytelling, web design and a robotic Hummingbird Petting Zoo. Both nonprofits exist to offer support and encouragement to local kids in a creative learning environment.
The 10-room Verticals Community Learning Center is located at 13 Arch St. in Brownsville. Schools apply to participate with the program, and they currently partner with Brownsville, Laurel Highlands and Monessen school districts. The programs are designed to supplement schooling for middle school and high school students.
Their classes begin in November, and they plan to kick off their upcoming sessions with a competition between the schools “to creatively represent the issue that they were focusing on in an T-shirt and a video.” This year’s focus will be on “the issues facing our community.”
Last year, celebrity judges selected Brownsville as the winner of the T-shirt contest and Laurel Highlands as the winner of the video contest.
After the kickoff, their base programming for the school year will begin with its first block of four-to-six-week classes that meet weekly for about an hour. Classes include Working with Drones, Robotics & Coding, Shoe Design, Entrepreneurs in the Making, Introduction to Photography, Videography and Digital Content Creation and the Life’s Living Laboratory.
The learning center expanded its photo and video program with a $10,000 grant from EQT to build a studio with a green screen. The studio that will enable students develop creative social media content to market their ideas. James said he wanted to offer students cutting-edge technology that students “will find interesting and cool” to expand their creativity and skills.
The shoe design class will allow students will create a prototype of their shoe design that will come to life with a 3-D printer.
The Life’s Living Laboratory is a new addition to their programming to teach students about “the business of produce from seed to shelf.” They added an outdoor learning center to the site, where students will plant two organic community gardens with heirloom produce including bell peppers, tomatoes, melons, arugula and herb gardens including basil, lemongrass, peppermint, lavender and parsley.
James said students will take a trip to Whole Foods to understand how profitable the industry can be, calculating potential profits using Whole Foods prices and the yield of their plants. Students will have the opportunity to sell their produce after the organization teamed up with Keefer’s Pizzeria in Hiller. The pizzeria agreed to purchase students’ basil and tomatoes for Margherita pizzas.
James said they hope to expand their offerings further with donations. He hopes to buy additional robotics equipment and to transform one of their rooms to launch an eSports center.
“Nowadays, colleges are giving out scholarships for eSports, and we don’t want students to miss those opportunities just because nobody in the area is offering it,” he said.
Alyssa Choiniere is a reporter for the Herald-Standard of Uniontown, Pa. Helping the Helpers is a joint effort of the Uniontown Herald-Standard and the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Readers may email him at [email protected].
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