The Spruce Foundation awarded our 2020 Education grant to the WesGold Fellows program of the West Philadelphia Financial Services Institution (WPFSI). Their mission is “to engage the youth, positively impact disadvantaged populations, and increase financial literacy in families and communities throughout the City of Philadelphia.” We spoke with Abbie Briskin, one of four Program Coordinators for the WesGold Fellows Program.
In any other year, high school youth would participate in a fully in-person immersive 8 week program with guest speakers, weekly field trips, campus tours and in classroom learning, across the topics of professional development, financial literacy, real estate, and entrepreneurship. COVID forced WPFSI to alter every aspect of their program. Despite the challenges, Briskin and the other Program Coordinators found creative solutions and even a few tactics to continue in future years.
The first round of lockdowns coincided with the start of WPFSI’s recruitment for the 2020 summer program. Pivoting overnight to a virtual awareness-raising campaign was challenging, but the team saw it as an opportunity to grow the program — ultimately doubling the number of Fellows from 15 to 30. Briskin shared that “the level of trust the Fellows had to place in us, that the program would still be effective and successful virtually, when they knew we had never done it that way before” stood out to her this year. “The Fellows showed a commitment and effort to embracing the program and the experience.”
WPFSI Coordinators got creative in developing an all-remote program. Even the kickoff scavenger hunt went virtual, and was a big success. This year featured more guest speakers since field trips and college campus tours were not options. Adding more 1:1 check-ins was impactful and will likely become a permanent aspect of the program in future years. Intermittent icebreakers battled Zoom fatigue and built relationships amongst the fellows. A highlight was performing a favorite karaoke song! In addition to building camaraderie, it allowed everyone to feel comfortable and free of judgement when working with and presenting to their cohort.
Fellows shared their culminating final presentations over Zoom with their cohort and WPFSI partner audience. The end of year ceremony was really important to the Program Coordinators to celebrate the progress of the Fellows. They were able to live stream presentations and use the rooftop at Cira Green for a socially-distanced outdoor closing event.
Briskin credits strong partnerships throughout Philadelphia with enabling the success of the WesGold Fellows program in this unprecedented time: providing Google Chromebooks and care packages for each student, sharing expertise as a guest speaker, and championing the Fellows’ future endeavors. Briskin feels that the partners of WPFSI are engaged with their mission; these guest speakers are not only participating for one day, but also building a network of resources for the Fellows that will last them a lifetime.
Looking ahead, Briskin is hoping to expand the WesGold Fellows program. “We get emails from students telling us how much they learned in the program and how they can see that they are farther ahead than their peers, now that they have completed the program. This is vital education for students that don’t have the resources to get it.”