Andrea Taylor vows, ‘I will be here every day even if four kids show up’
After-school programs for children on the South Side are not common, but the South Side Communication Center offers one free of charge to neighborhood parents. Andrea Taylor, 40, a mother of three, and an employee of the South Side Initiative, runs the program each school day from 4 to 7 p.m.
“I was hired for the summer, and they decided to keep me for the fall,” Taylor said. “At the end of the day, I feel like when it comes to these kids I am the best person for this job because I am the community.”
Taylor grew up in Phoenix, Ariz., in a community with socio-economic similarities to the South Side, where she has lived for over a decade. She relies on her own life experiences to frame how she helps others. “When you know what something feels like and it didn’t feel good, why would you do it to the next person?” Taylor said.
Her goal is for the center, located at 2331 S. Salina St., to be like a second home for all of the children and a place where they can feel safe. “I’m not a certified teacher, but I am a mom. I try to make this a place where they have fun and learn something, too, and absolutely leave with something,” she said.
Taylor works with children and adolescents ages 8 to 18, and every day the number varies — four to 20 on average, she said. They come from Danforth Middle School, McKinley, Meacham, Corcoran and Nottingham, among others. Taylor gives them a measure of freedom and treats them like adults. The youth choose when they want to come and go, and which days they want to be there.
“These kids need something positive,” said Angela Adams, a grandmother of a child attending. “I think it is a wonderful program.”
Adams’ grandchild, Sy’Air Adams, has been attending the program for a week, and he has a lot of fun, he said. Sy’Air enjoys reading. Taylor said she focuses on individual interests and brings in materials that the youth will learn from and enjoy.
Taylor aims to treat participants with respect. “I have them sign contracts. You agree to maintain your behavior. If you don’t, I can put you out,” Taylor said. “But at the end of the day, I give you a chance. I believe in chances, but you aren’t going to abuse me. I look at it as a way of preparing them.”
When there are arguments or fights, Taylor takes those involved into a meeting room with a large rectangular table and chairs to work it out. She calls this her courtroom.
But her focus is always on education.
“If there is something that even I am curious about, that I don’t have enough knowledge on, ‘let’s learn together,’” said Taylor, who looks up worksheets online and prints them out every day for the group. “I also encourage them to bring their homework in and teach me.”
Tammy Glasgow, a member of the Southside Community Coalition Board who works to revitalize the South Side community, believes the program is beneficial. “We try to keep them off the streets and give them somewhere to go. They do school work, they are allowed to go on the Internet, they do workshops,” she said.
The kids do homework and play the word game “hangman” every day at a large, square table in a discussion room at the front of the Communication Center. Light shines in from three windows. The youth are surrounded by historic pictures of the South Side and a bookcase full of encyclopedias and other books ranging from black history to fun reads.
Taylor brings in a quotation that the children guess by playing the “hangman” game.
“We discuss what that quote means to them,” Taylor said. “Today the quote is, ‘Some rewards come in words.’ Every time you get rewarded for something it’s not going to be something physical, it might just be someone says ‘great job,’ or ‘I’m proud of you.’”
Toward the end of the day, the group gets to use the computers, located in a room adjacent to their discussion room. During computer time, the youth get a chance to play games on the Internet, browse and get quizzed on trivia. Taylor uses questions and trivia as a way to teach them how to navigate the Internet properly and learn about credible sources. The room comes alive when the after-school participants log on to the computers, then rush up and ask for more trivia questions from Taylor, sitting at her desk.
Adams describes the scene. “When I come, they are quiet, on the computer and doing what they got to do. And I think that makes a big difference if they have something here that they like doing, that makes them come back,” Adams said. “And they are learning. That makes a big difference.” Adams said that many of the program participants probably do not have computers at home, and this gives them exposure to it.
“I try to teach my grandkids the way I taught my kids. Because you live in ignorance doesn’t mean you need to be ignorant,” Adams said. “I can see this program teaching them the difference between being out there in the ignorance and being somewhere safe and positive; and just knowing that they don’t have to live like that, you know what I mean? Andrea is a positive person, so I know she is going to bring positivity to them.”
Taylor says she wants to bring more exposure to the after-school program. When she walks home and sees children with a parent, she said, she tells them about the program and how it can give the parent a break and the child a place to do homework and have fun.
“I don’t want to disappoint any child. I’ve built a relationship with these kids, and love them, so I will be here every day even if four kids show up,” Taylor said.
“One of my mentors told me: the day you find a job that you love coming to, that’s your career,” Taylor said. “I want to make a difference in their lives, and touch wherever I can. Even if it is just them having fun for a couple of hours because I look at it as an opportunity to make a difference in the next person’s life.”
— Photos by Leroy Mikell, Staff Photo