Providing a Vision

Mercy Works program offers students multiple opportunities

Mercy Works, Inc., a non-profit organization based on the South Side, provides a plethora of programs to children, from computer literacy classes and internship placement to improving family relationships.

Gina Rivers, the organization’s program director, said Mercy Works’ mission is to identify and meet the social needs of the community and to empower urban youth.

Teen Tech teacher Seth Crossman helps Aliyah Kirkpatrick, 11, with her project at The Vision Center on Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012. Kirkpatrick, a sixth-grader at Jamesville Dewitt Middle School, will get a free PC if she successfully completes the class. | Jim Tuttle, Staff Photo

“I think the best thing we do is clarify vision for this young generation,” Rivers said. “A part of their challenge is that young people do not have control over their current lifestyle. Families do the best they can do, but children need to know that doesn’t have to dictate what they can become.”

By its own description, Mercy Works intends to expose young people to opportunities through several programs. Each is offered at The Vision Center, 1221 S. Salina St.

“We bought the abandoned building on the 1200 block and renovated it to have state-of-the-art technology to help us in our mission to providing a vision for our community and the members.”

The Vision Center, which was opened in 2006, houses computer hubs featuring high-speed Internet and multiple areas where students can meet to discuss their current projects. The Vision Center also includes an Internet café.

One program, called Teen Tech, teaches students how to build computers, and to program hardware and software. Students learn how to utilize Microsoft Office suite programs, such as Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel and Publisher.

“We aim to help students see past just the computer itself, but to see what it can offer and how it can help students in school and eventually in their careers,” said Seth Crossman, who teaches Teen Tech.

Syracuse University student volunteer Jessica David helps Mohamed Djouma, 19, with his presentation project at The Vision Center's Teen Tech class held last December. | Jim Tuttle, Staff Photo

The Teen Tech class is aimed at students from 12 to 16 years old but participants have been as young as 10.
Students who complete the 10-week program, which meets twice a week, create a mock business and PowerPoint for their business plans. The top plans are then presented at the Teen Tech graduation. “To complete the program, students must take an initial test and a final test and simply show improvement,” Crossman said.

On a visit to the class late last year, De’Anna Hawkins and Raekwon Gary, told a visitor about their experiences in the Teen Tech program. “My grandma forced me to start coming to Teen Tech because she knew it’d help me,” Hawkins said. “But now I really like coming here because I like learning about computers and making friends.”

“Since I was 13 years old, I knew I loved computers,” Gary said. “But this class taught me things that I didn’t know before and the coolest part is learning how to actually build a computer on your own.”

Hawkins and Gary said they take the information they learn at Teen Tech and share it with family and friends. “When I go home, I can help my family members or friends if they have problems with their computer,” Gary said. “Because of this class I’m better with computers but now I can make others get it too.”

Hawkins has begun to help her grandmother make her own website. “My cousin works with computers and after I started this class, he gave me a huge book. Everything about computers is in there,” Hawkins said.
Gina Rivers said that when Mercy Works “started offering different programs, we knew that the knowledge wouldn’t just stop with the students. They’ll go home and tell their own families and friends and the wealth of knowledge spreads.”

The organization offered another technologically oriented program, iCan, last summer. It focused on robotics engineering. Students, ages 13 to 17 years old built and tested robots from LEGO Mindstorms NXT collection, Rivers said.

But Mercy Works’ classes are not limited to technology. Passport to Vision is a program that helps high school girls develop better relationships with their mothers. The organization said the class focuses on providing an environment to help build trust in the mother-daughter relationship and other relationships the girls may develop.

“I hope students take away that we are here to help,” Rivers said. “That we can show young adults living in the South Side and Syracuse that there is more to life than just their neighborhoods.”


Students raise their hands during a quiz game at The Vision Center's Teen Tech class on Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012. Teacher Seth Crossman asked computer-related questions while volunteer Jessica David kept score. | Jim Tuttle, Staff Photo