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Campus & Community

Drexel and Partners Receive $5 Million Lenfest Foundation Grant to Accelerate Career Training for Local Residents

February 16, 2018

Three females at a career training session.
Job training as part of University City District's West Philadelphia Skills Initiative. Image by Ryan Collerd.

The Lenfest Foundation has awarded a three-year $5 million grant to University City District (UCD), the University City Science Center and Drexel University to accelerate career opportunities for local residents. The grant will benefit a partnership between the three organization that leverages University City's explosive economic growth to train and place unemployed West Philadelphia residents in family-sustaining jobs today, while equipping the community's workforce with the skills and certifications needed to connect to the jobs of the future.

"At the Lenfest Foundation, we work every day to ensure that Philadelphians can gain the education, knowledge, skills and opportunities that lead to a fulfilling, productive life, and we are proud to support three dynamic entities who have a history of providing those services to the West Philadelphia community," said Keith Leaphart, chair of the Lenfest Foundation. "We know this investment will accelerate their efforts, and make it possible for more talented local residents to serve as the workforce of the future."

Through a collaboration anchored by UCD's nationally-acclaimed job training program, the West Philadelphia Skills Initiative, the partners plan to connect nearly 600 previously unemployed residents to careers over three years, resulting in over $16 million in wages generated in the community. In addition, over 200 adults and high school students in West Philadelphia will attain credentials, certifications and exposure to STEM careers, setting them on meaningful pathways to employment.

"University City is at a unique moment of economic possibility. How we connect talented West Philadelphians to the opportunities afforded by growth will shape the future of our community as much as the buildings rising along our skyline," said Matt Bergheiser, president of University City District. "We are grateful to the Lenfest Foundation for its transformative investment. We look forward to working with long-standing partners through the West Philadelphia Skills Initiative to close the opportunity gap in West Philadelphia."

Not only will this grant allow each partner to scale its own programs in order to serve more individuals, but it will create a new collaborative infrastructure that strengthens economic opportunity in West Philadelphia. The West Philadelphia Skills Initiative connects local residents to living wage, life-changing jobs with University City's premier employers; the program has served over 800 job seekers and generated $15.4 million in wages for previously unemployed local residents. Lenfest's support will enable UCD to build new training programs with the Science Center and Drexel University, along with other employers in University City.

Drexel will expand its long-standing commitment to the Skills Initiative to train residents for specific jobs across the University while enhancing its adult education programming and credentialing at the Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships.

"The best way forward for University City - and all of Philadelphia - is to foster economic growth and opportunity that leaves no one behind," said John Fry, president of Drexel. "With incredibly generous support from the Lenfest Foundation, we can take significant steps toward achieving that goal."

The Science Center will expand its nationally recognized FirstHand program to guide more local high-school students towards STEM-related careers, while working with the Skills Initiative to train and place local residents into the science and technology companies that are proliferating across University City.

"We are grateful for this funding from the Lenfest Foundation that will enable us to accelerate our mission to inspire and lead an inclusive community of innovation and entrepreneurship," said Curtis M. Hess, interim president & CEO of the University City Science Center. "Not only will we be able to introduce more high school students to the power and potential of STEM career pathways, but we'll also launch our first workforce development initiative to train and place local residents into good-paying jobs within the science and technology companies at uCity Square and beyond that are growing our economy."

The Lenfest Foundation was established by H. F. (Gerry) Lenfest and Marguerite Lenfest in 2000. In 2011, the Foundation's mission was revised to focus on disadvantaged youth in the Philadelphia area. After a major investment in early childhood education, the organization now seeks to make an impact by funding out-of-school time programs for middle school students along with workforce development and career pathways programs for older youth.