by Juanita Alexander
On October 3, 2013 the Franklin Institute‘s Partnerships For Achieving Careers in Technology and Science (PACTS) celebrated its’ 20th anniversary. PACTS offers middle and high school students a unique blend of science enrichment, mentoring, and leadership opportunities, especially those living in urban neighborhoods like Parkside.
Several alumni of the program, including keynote speaker Dr. Albert J. Hicks III, spoke passionately about the key role PACTS played in their lives as impressionable teenagers. They stressed the important influence of the program in their continued social and intellectual growth and career choices.
During the celebration program, an extensive interview was conducted with PACTS alumnus Jimmy Harmon. The mentoring aspect of PACTS was especially important to Harmon. He said that he regarded PACTS Director Mike Burch as “almost like a second father.” Harmon continued by comparing PACTS to a tree that “when its’ old leaves fall off, has space for new leaves to replace them.”
His comments keenly illustrate the importance of programs like PACTS for Philadelphia’s urban Youth. Harmon began by emphasizing that he “wasn’t even thinking about college before joining PACTS”, feeling that the military was his only sure path to social advancement. He described himself as a “shy teenager who had a real problem speaking in in public.” He said “I always had a problem speaking to more than one person (at a time).” He explained that with PACTS “I got a chance to express myself in a way that I never could before.” He fondly recalled the long conversations he had about Black history and the exposure he had to other social and scientific issues.
He regards the current teen members of PACTS as the “new leaves.” He stressed that they will only truly appreciate what PACTS has done for them after they have graduated from the program. “PACTS” is like gold,” concluded an enthusiastic Jimmy Harmon as he ended his interview.
PACTS Director Mike Burch, a Parkside native, expressed his determination to make the PACTS program more relevant and accessible to areas like Parkside. He stressed the close, integral relationship between Fairmount Park and the adjoining Parkside neighborhood. It is his goal to get Parkside Youth more involved in the environmental projects PACTS has planned in the near future in Fairmount Park