The Chester Education Foundation (CEF) announced the creation of the Marie and Cynthia Jetter College and Career Center, which is expected to begin serving the community of Chester this spring.
The Jetter Center is a revival of the College Access Center of Delaware County, which was co-directed by Swarthmore and served the Chester community for almost 10 years. And it’s a testament to the passion Cynthia Jetter ’74 and her late mother, Marie, shared for expanding educational opportunities for young people in need.
“Although my mother didn’t have the opportunity to expand her own education, she was such a strong advocate for it,” says Jetter, who drove the creation of the College Access Center as director of community partnerships and planning with the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility. “However and whenever she could, she tried to help and support educational programs, particularly for young people.
“I know I would not have taken the leaps and bounds I did to get a better education if not for her,” Jetter adds, “and I know how much she gave up to afford me that opportunity.”
The Jetter Center will extend college and career services from the renovated offices of the CEF and through partnerships with schools and community organizations throughout Chester. The CEF is a natural fit to continue and expand the work of the College Access Center, based on its 30-year history of providing educational support services and forging community partnerships.
When the College Access Center closed this past June, Swarthmore committed to ensuring continuous service to, and partnership with, Chester youth.
“From the moment we heard that the College Access Center might be closing, colleagues such as Dion Lewis [assistant dean of the junior class and director of the Black Cultural Center], Greg Brown [vice president for finance and administration], and I spent months strategizing with [President] Val Smith about how we might maintain programming with our Chester partners,” says Ben Berger, executive director of the Lang Center and associate professor of political science. “It wasn’t a question of whether, but of how.”
Community partners Cheryl Cunningham, executive director of CEF, and Frances Sheehan, president of the Foundation for Delaware County, arranged multiple conversations with Chester residents to hear their concerns and hopes.
In response, the Lang Center and the Eugene M. Lang Foundation supported the introduction of a national college-readiness program, Let’s Get Ready, to Chester in September. Five college students from Swarthmore and two from Widener University (which spearheaded the original College Access Center along with Swarthmore) have served as coaches this fall, providing one-on-one tutoring and taking students through math and verbal modules to prepare them to take the SAT exam this month.
“It’s a really nice program that helps students who don’t have any other resources in or outside of school,” says Ashley Henry, project director for youth empowerment at the Lang Center. “It’s meeting the students’ desire and meeting an important need in the community.”
The student coaches and two student site directors from Swarthmore have met with 11 Chester students twice a week throughout the fall. The sessions are split between SAT prep and informal discussions on college essays, scholarship and financial aid opportunities, and the experiences the Swarthmore and Widener students have had with higher education.
One site director is Sharon Hu ’21, of Elmhurst, N.Y., who attended a high school with an admissions test and robust SAT prep, and there are two students from Widener who grew up in Chester and overcame obstacles to higher education.
“It’s great to offer that exposure to a variety of perspectives,” says Hu, who views volunteering with the program as a way to pay forward opportunities she received.
The other site director, Ethan Yoo ’19, comes from a low-income, first-in-family background and volunteered with both Let’s Get Ready and the College Access Center. “I wanted to make sure that other students had access to resources that I didn’t have access to,” says the educational studies and political science special major from Scotch Plains, N.J.
Current programming out of the CEF also includes college visits, and college and career workshops through after-school programs at Chester High School and Chester STEM Academy. Moving forward, the organization will offer tutoring, parent workshops, and career and college exploration. Guiding this work are educational consultants and a community advisory board.
“It’s giving the community a voice for what they’d like to see with the Center, which is integral to determining its mission, vision, and goals,” says Henry, who serves on the advisory board.
That effort builds on those of Yi Wei ’21, of Plainsboro, N.J., who as a Chester Community Fellow this summer helped brainstorm the development of the new Center; collected data and interviews in the Chester community; and established a student council of volunteers from Swarthmore and the other six institutions (Widener, Neumann University, Penn State Brandywine, Cheyney University, and Delaware County Community College) that had supported the College Access Center.
Swarthmore hopes for a full cohort of 40 Chester students in the Let’s Get Ready program this spring, says Henry, as renovations to the CEF building unfold (funded in part by an assortment of grants, including one from the Foundation for Delaware County). The building boasts a computer room and, on the seventh floor, floor-to-ceiling windows offering views of Chester, Philadelphia, and the Delaware River. It will ultimately include an expansive art room, storage space, and a kitchen.
And, of course, a new name: The Jetter Center. That prospect excites Jetter, particularly for its recognition of her mother. She credits her mother, a lifelong Chester resident who died three years ago, as the inspiration for her decades of work on behalf of people in need.
“Based on her background and the types of jobs she had, she knew that education was the key,” says Jetter, who was one of the first participants of the College’s Upward Bound program en route to Swarthmore. “So I’m excited to see her name on there, which is something she never, ever, ever would have imagined happening.”
But beyond the building’s name is its mission.
“Any information, support, and opportunities given to the young people of Chester and Delaware County, young people and their families in pursuit of higher education, is welcome and needed,” adds Jetter. “It’s critical for there to be a place where people can access information that allows them access to greater opportunities.”
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