JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – Utilizing their own experiences and positions in the community, Johnstown residents Calvin Berkins, Denzel Henderson and Jermaine Taylor want to provide area youth with a series of new mentoring programs.
“The kids really just need stability,” Berkins said.
The three men have visions of lending a hand to the youth with their specific expertise – Berkins and his barbershop, Shear Magic; Henderson and his Compassionate Hearts Personal Care business; and Taylor’s Hope 4 Johnstown. Sheldon Gunby and Quaz Taylor are also involved.
Through the encouragement of Carmina Taylor, founder of the We Can’t Wait Pennsylvania Statewide Coalition, the trio have contacted Greater Johnstown School District. Carmina Taylor is not related to Jermaine or Quaz Taylor.
“I feel that it’s a phenomenal opportunity that these Black men have embraced my desire to make a difference in Johnstown,” she said.
The group spoke during the August school board meeting to request a small portion of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds to support their efforts and have since met with Superintendent Amy Arcurio to discuss their ideas.
All three men aren’t originally from Johnstown, but have lived in the community for several years and said they see the promise the city holds.
Henderson, Compassionate Hearts’ director of operations, said the district has been receptive to partnering with his company, which he founded in 2019, in order to provide nursing students with internships and other on-the-job experience.
“I think it would be great,” he said.
Henderson’s business is a non-medical in-home care program. He noted that the career field is rapidly growing and that, by working with the school district, those students could be the future of the company.
“Providing this type of care is a lifestyle and not just a job,” Henderson said.
Berkins aims to use his barbershop for his approach. However, he didn’t want to get into much detail just yet.
“I’ve got some good ideas,” he said.
Berkins mentioned that he’ll make the second flood of his Market Street business available for workshops and other activities in the future and wants to continue doing what he does already – serving as a positive influence in the community, he said.
“Barbering while mentoring,” he calls it.
Berkins said when children walk into his shop and sit in the chair, the first thing he asks is how their grades are and goes from there. The barber provides advice and words of wisdom while also lending a hand when he can. Berkins said he just wants the opportunity to show the community what he can offer.
Henderson, a barbershop customer, said that a lot of children come into the shop and they listen to him.
“I hear him talk to the kids and connect with them,” he said.
For Jermaine Taylor, making that sort of connection is key. As a representative of Hope 4 Johnstown, he has taken a first-hand approach to community improvement – often organizing events at Johnstown Housing Authority buildings.
But Jermaine Taylor wants to go further than that by creating a school-based club to show boys how to transition into manhood. The students will participate in a 10-step program that will teach them character qualities such as respect and loyalty as well as life skills, such as sewing.
There will be regular check-ins with teachers and parents and goals set to encourage the learners.
“My model is prevention,” he said. “I don’t want to wait for something to happen.”
Jermaine Taylor also views that approach as a way to “rebuild the community” because having a connection with the children provides a bridge to the parents.
He noted that many come from single-parent households and he doesn’t “want these kids growing up on their own.”
“If we can take these programs to the school, that’ll be perfect,” Jermaine Taylor said.
All three men said they think they are heading in the right direction.
“I think any time we have members of our community who are eager to mentor our students, that’s a wonderful thing,” Arcurio said.
During her meeting with the group, she said she encouraged them to contact other mentoring groups already established in the community and a follow-up meeting will be scheduled.
Arcurio said she looks forward to watching Berkins, Henderson and Taylor develop their programs, and the district will meet with them regularly.
Carmina Taylor said there was no date provided for the next community stakeholder meeting – required to receive the American Rescue Plan funds and an event she wants them to be involved in – and she got the feeling that the school district was passing the men off onto other mentoring programs.
“We want to work with the school district to augment the ESSER funds to help the most marginalized students,” she said.
Arcurio said the district could not provide a portion of the funding to the group at this time.