Start Local

The focus on STEM education and STEM careers in recent decades has us meeting with Richard Roberts, III, to talk about supporting economically disadvantaged and historically underrepresented youth to become the next generation of leaders. Rick is the founder and President of Young Men and Women in Charge, headquartered in West Chester, Pa. In a well-rounded conversation, we talk about how a village of support enables local young people to excel.


Southern Chester County Chamber of Commerce


Young Men and Women in Charge Foundation
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What is Start Local?

Start Local is focused on helping businesses and non-profits in and around Chester County, Pennsylvania, connect and grow together. Our aim is to bring together the many folks that make up our wonderful community in greater Philadelphia to share and learn from each other.

Liam Dempsey: Join us in person and mingle with the Start Local community.

Joe Casabona: We have been talking about it for a few months now. So, we are very excited to share the specifics of our first in-person gathering. Folks who subscribe to our emails already have these details, but we are sharing them now with our listeners.

Liam Dempsey: Come on out to meet and get to know the wonderful people in our Start Local community. We'll gather at Stolen Sun in Exton on Wednesday, March 27th from 5:00 - 7:00 PM. Experience engaging conversations, dynamic people in great food and drink.

Joe Casabona: Attendance is free, but registration is required. Learn more and register on our website at [ /gather].

Liam Dempsey: Welcome to Start Local, where we talk with business owners, leaders of nonprofits, and other members of our community focused on doing business in and around Chester County, Pennsylvania. Each episode will provide insight into the local business scene and tell you about opportunities to connect with and support businesses and nonprofits in your local area.

The Southern Chester County Chamber of Commerce promotes trade commerce industry and sustainable economic development while supporting a diverse and growing marketplace. The Chamber is proud to partner with the Start Local podcast to raise a profile of businesses and nonprofits throughout Chester County. Learn more about the

Welcome to Start Local, where we connect with local leaders to support local businesses and nonprofits in and around Chester County, Pennsylvania. I'm Liam Dempsey, and today I'm flying solo as the host of the show. My colleagues weren't available on for today. So I have the priviledge of meeting and interviewing our guest, we'll get to it in a minute all by myself.

Before I introduce my guest, I wanted to remind everybody that we have our 1st in-person event coming up, and it's later this month on Wednesday, March 27th. We'll be at Stolen Sun in Exton from 5-7 PM. Come on out and join us for great food, great drinks, and even better company. The event is free to attend, but we do need you to register. So head over to [], and let us know that you'll be joining us.

Liam Dempsey: Okay. Turning our attention to today's guest. We're in the podcast studio with Richard Roberts, III. The Founder and Executive Director of Young Men and Women in Charge based in Westchester, Pennsylvania. YMWIC works to enable economically disadvantaged and historically underrepresented youth to excel and become leaders in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, STEM.

Rick, welcome to the show. Thanks for being here. So I'm gonna jump right in with questions here. So, I read on the YMWIC website that your organization's mission is to empower and prepare economically disadvantaged and historically underrepresented youth to excel, become leaders in stem careers. We just shared that in the intro. So, why focus on STEM? How will that empower the youth you aim to serve?

Richard Roberts, III: Yes. First of all, good to be here. Thanks for having me. So start off with my story. Right? So, I'm from the Philadelphia area, grew up in Germantown, Queen Lane Projects, and finished the rest of my young life before college in the West Oakland area. And I remember going to college to study Electrical Engineering. And what I noticed at a predominantly white institution, call them PWI versus HBCUs, historically black colleges and universities in the PWI, and in my classroom. And in just the environment itself, lot of differences in the way I approach things versus my colleagues. And, you know, at that point, it became, I was curious about that. How was that, you know, focusing not on just the academic side, but just the general, you know, relationships and how we approach relationships with professors and colleagues. There's a big difference in just the way I did it versus my colleagues. So that proceeded forward into my career.

And it's very interesting how the same thing was very prominent if you will. And I was very meticulous in observing behaviors and getting things done. And so I've always, again, wondered how and why. And I looked around, you know, there weren't a lot of people that looked like me doing what I was doing.

Liam Dempsey: Mhmm.

Richard Roberts, III: And so with that, that sparked an interest in wanting to make a change in that. And so, I mean, that's pretty much how it started off with me. You know, as a young person, you know, observing that it is a difference and wondering why there just aren't a lot. And not only with, you know, black and brown people in the industry, but also women. You know? And so, you know, that pretty much is the linchpin for me.

Now with that, you know, engineering, it served me well. I was able to raise my family. I did what I needed to do and what I wanted to do, and it was I thought, it was a very lucrative field for myself. And so, fast forward, you know, I just thought, how can more folks of color do this? And that's how it started.

Liam Dempsey: Yeah. That's really interesting. And it sounds like, that your STEM career, your career in engineering was quite successful. And as you were looking around and seeing more folks like me should have the opportunity to do this. That's really insightful. Thank you.

In our conversation before today, before we hit the record button, we discussed how YMWIC delivers programs specifically for parents, carers, and the family of your members, your young people, your students. Why is it important to provide wraparound services beyond the student, but to the, to those around them? Why does that matter to you and to your colleagues?

Richard Roberts, III: Yeah. I mean, so when we designed this program, the program was actually designed around how I grew up. And I have to tell you, and if it weren't for the neighborhood, if it weren't for the village, I wouldn't be talking about this today to you. There's no way.

And so the program's structure is based on a village. We have our university partners. Obviously, we have our community partners starting with the school district, the K-12 district. And, of course, there's those corporations. and each one of those, each of these entities, they have a vested interest in their community.

As you get into universities and corporations, it's a genuine interest for them because not only are they interested in the community, but they're trying to do something with their work environment trying to make it more diverse. Universities are trying to produce more women and students of color to pursue these fields. So with that takes a village concept. We realized that, you know, the scholar can't do it alone. And with that, there are all kinds of barriers around all of us, particularly those that are more underserved. And so many of those barriers can't be controlled by that scholar. So wraparound allows us to understand what are these scholars going through and what can we do to minimize those barriers. What can we do to be advocates? What can we do to provide additional support for grandma, for parents, or whoever the guardians are? And then our program by infusing these services and becoming a safe place for that scholar, it promotes this takes-a-village concept that we have in place. Did I answer your question?

Liam Dempsey: Very much so. Thank you.

Your organization has chapters in Philly, Westchester, Norristown, Coatesville, Upper Darby, William Penn, Phoenixville, and Chester Upland. How did you and your colleagues identify those specific communities as being in need of assistance? And I'll also ask you to think about it and share it with us, do you and your board members have plans for future growth?

Richard Roberts, III: Yes. Good question. So I'll say that the inaugural program chapter, it actually occurred in my current, in my school district that I lived in. And it was very easy for me to do that, because I was a coach in the district, I was a coach and mentor in the community, and so I had relationships with many folks in leadership. So, when I presented this project to them, they welcomed it with open arms. But even then, the interest was to take this program to more underserved communities. Because it just so happened that the district, the inaugural district is actually a very high-performing public school district in the state of Pennsylvania.

So once I was able to create that model and that structure, from that point on, we targeted mainly the underserved districts. Those districts that are underfunded. Those districts that have a large population of, you know, high poverty, poor, you know, and I would not say poor, but you know, definitely can use some support in the areas of academics and infrastructure. So that is the strategy behind selecting a school district, a K-12, targeting those particular districts.

Today, we are, we've got 9 chapters and 8 school districts.. And, yes. We are our sights on additional districts within Delaware County, Montgomery County, Chester County, Philadelphia, and we're also targeting Wilmington Delaware, and Camden, New Jersey.

Liam Dempsey: In the run-up to this conversation, you talked about the number 10,000. and that was a number, well, better stated the manner in which you spoke about that number, I found particularly compelling. Tell me about 10,000 as it pertains to your organization. Why is that number relevant and a passion for you?

Richard Roberts, III: Absolutely. So, you know, when we administer our program, it's more to it than STEM. Right? So, obviously, STEM is, STEM fields and the industries of STEM that have STEM careers, you know, if you're in there, it's you can make a reasonable living. Right? And if you're able to make a reasonable living, you're able to, you know, help yourself. You're able to do well for your family. And if inclined to, you are able to do something in your community. So that's first and foremost. The other thing that we do is we provide educational services that where we try to change the mindset of an individual for the common good, right? with the interest of passing it forward.

And we apply that same concept across all of our districts and in the future. So my thought is when I talk to our scholars and we work with them, I say that I'm, what if each of you are speaking and working with your own group of 100 or 1000? What could happen to the city of Chester? What could happen to the city of Coatesville? What could happen to the state of Pennsylvania? And if we continue to grow and teach these, what I think are common sense but very impactful teachings, knowledge, that can have a significant impact in our community was to have a significant impact in our economy, was to have significant impact in the world. And that's the idea of 10,000. 10,000 reaching out to an additional 10,000 and so forth.

Liam Dempsey: Yeah. I love that. Thank you. Thank you for walking me through that again. I really, I find that very moving. Thank you, Rick.

Richard Roberts, III: You're welcome.

Liam Dempsey: YMWIC partners with area school districts, universities, and corporations. Let's start with companies. Why would a company in and around Chester County, and I know you're in other locations, why would somebody in the chester Philadelphia who runs a company owns a company? Why would they wanna partner with your organization?

Richard Roberts, III: Well, first and foremost, it's a great you know, if you're just looking for your employees to be engaged with a positive experience and impacting the future, it's a great model for a corporation. We have many opportunities where practitioners can become coaches for robotics, for coding. They can become volunteers for projects such as we have an annual STEM or science expo. In fact, we just had it a couple weeks ago at Westchester University. We had almost a 1000 people on that campus, and these scholars were defending their their dissertations, if you will. So it's an opportunity for corporations to make a difference in these students.

The other reason that it's an ultimate, awesome experience or opportunity is, you know, we're keep in mind, you know, being being selfish for a moment, we're trying to impact the future workforce. So these corporations have needs. They have interest in interns. They have interest in job shadowing. Well, we have we have an internship and a job shadowing program. In fact, we continue to work with our scholars all the way into college until they graduate with a focus on getting them jobs. So this is another good opportunity for these corporations to impact their workforce for the near future or even further down the line. So those are the main reasons.

Liam Dempsey: Technology is causing massive change in the marketplace. and in the skill sets that employees need or certainly will need in the future. The companies that are already partnering with you, Rick, do they share insight with you and your teammates about what their employee needs are today and what they can expect their people to need in the years ahead?

Richard Roberts, III: Yeah. In fact, they do. And I think that, those who, those organizations that are not partners with us, that's another good reason for wanting to do it because, you know, we have a lot of room for innovation. We could take their products, and we could engage our scholars in those projects very early on.

And another thing that organizations are doing is they know that they have a strong need, especially there's a lot of baby boomers that are phasing out. And so believe it or not, you've got organizations that are looking for more skilled services that don't even require a degree, but need some level of technology experience. So those are opportunities that we make available for our partners to allow us our scholars to participate in an apprenticeship program. In fact, because of that, we created a pre-apprenticeship program. We're in our 2nd year with that, and we've received a few grants to support it. And that program allows us to work with a partner, to support their needs and their future workforce, particularly around, you know, non-degree resources.

Liam Dempsey: We'll come back to that nondegree resources, nondegree careers in a bit. But for now, let's turn our attention to local schools. Your organization works with students in grades k-1. He says with some difficulty, “You shared offline that your organization partners directly with 8 school districts}. And then in due course, you go out and you meet with the heads of school and the teachers in those districts. Every school district has its own elected board and inevitably will have its own personality, goals, needs, and challenges. How do you and your YMWIC colleagues navigate the process of partnering with so many different school districts in and around Chester County?

Richard Roberts, III: Oh, yeah. So always a challenge. But the challenge is almost identical to the challenges that we have within the community. So we have a general program and process, but we tailor that within the community. We look to meet our scholars where they are and our families where they are. And then what we do is, in terms of the leadership within the districts, you know, our interest is how do we support their needs more. And then as they see what we're doing, it's very transparent, and, we look to get them to buy into what we're doing in our future.

So what we do is we, you know, we just we customize it the best we can in our approach and our delivery.
And the bottom line is that we hope that they have an interest in their community, and we want them to look at us as a partner that will help them with their community and those kids.

Liam Dempsey: We don't wanna ignore universities in this conversation. So, let's turn to there. Why and how are universities and colleges in our area partnering with your organization? And if you can, can you would you share some of the names of those university partners?

Richard Roberts, III: Sure. Sure. So, you know, again, you know, first and foremost, let's just be selfish for a moment. Universities, they need to make sure that their enrollment is, per their strategic plans. And I think at the very least, you know, more and more universities are looking to ensure that they have a diverse, you know, group of students.

Diversity, it does more than just have a mixture of people. It’s having a healthy representation of the population, allowing the right decisions to be made to serve everybody, to have healthy decisions. So that's first and foremost.

2nd, you know, it's important for universities to go into those communities and share with the communities about their offering. You know, how amazing what they have available, you know, how it can be available to these students. And so being and getting involved with YMWIC, it becomes a conduit for them to get to these students, much easier than the standard.

I'm at the high school doing a, you know, a recruitment activity. Through our program, we immerse those admissions folks in our program. Due to our relationship, we go we take our students on campus and be under the direction of TAs or professors in their laboratory environment. So they get firsthand experience that you would never get in a college tour. Some of the local schools that we have a strong relationship with is obviously, is Westchester University. In fact, our headquarters is based on, Westchester University. We have a great relationship with Immaculata University. We have a great relationship with Penn State, Pitt, Carnegie Mellon, Newman College, St. Joe's University. We have a strong pool of student tutors from Saint Joe's University, that's helping us out with our scholars.

Liam Dempsey: In a previous conversation with Doug Thompson of RV Industries, which is Episode 42 for our listeners, Erik Gudmundson and I talked with Doug about the value and appeal of a career in the skilled trades. I wanna train that question to you and ask if you and you shared earlier that that you were. So can you talk about how, why MWI said (I knew I was gonna trip over it at some point), how is YMWIC supporting your scholars, and your members to pursue careers in the trades? How, what does that look like?

Richard Roberts, III: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So, you know, first and foremost, like I said, we're in our 2nd year of a program called our pre-apprenticeship program. And pre-apprenticeship program, it has a focus on the skilled trades. Right? We recognize again that there's a lot of baby boomers out there that's leaving. There's a lot of technology out there that doesn't really require a 4 year degree. And, you know, you can make a decent living doing this. And if you're at the right company, if you decide that you wanna get a 4-year degree, 9 times out of 10 that organization will help you get that degree. So, that's our position.

The other thing about our position as it pertains to the skilled trades, you know, we're finding that not every student is interested in a 4-year degree. And so, and it's okay. Right? So many of them don't have a place to go to learn and become exposed to these high-paying skilled jobs. So we decided to, in fact, we've had scholars in our program that all of a sudden, even though they're going through our curriculum, they say, well, you know, it's just not for me. So we're not just gonna, we can't just abandon them. So we decided to enhance our program so that it doesn't matter what you wanna do. A 4-year college, a 2-year college, no college. What we're gonna do is make sure that we're able to accomplish the goals, which is primarily, you know, making an impact in our community and making more and more people employed so they can make a contribution in their society.

Liam Dempsey: And would I be right in understanding that YMWIC already have relationships with technical colleges and trading institutions?

Richard Roberts, III: Yes. We do.

Liam Dempsey: Fantastic. And then is that the local CCIU? Is that Daria Stevens? Who are you working with if you can share that?

Richard Roberts, III: Yeah. Yeah. So we have students at at Stevens, The Values of Stevens, Williamson College. There's also we have quite a few students at Delaware County Community College, Montco, Philadelphia Community College. And that's just this and we're early on in that stage. I'm sure there are many, many others that, you know, in the past, you know, they would knock on our door and, you know, we would do what we can, but now we welcome them to knock on our door.

We have every second Saturday in November, we host an annual college expo. In the past, we would have 4-year colleges there. Now we have 4-year colleges, community college, and technical trade schools. We have our corporate partners there. What an amazing opportunity for everybody to network, and then expose the community to all these opportunities.

Liam Dempsey: I'm seeing that village at that college fair. It's college fair is a word that ever or a phrase that everyone understands, but it sounds like it's a lot more there, Rick.

Richard Roberts, III: As in fact, we changed the name about about 6 years ago. We called it the College and Career Expo.

Liam Dempsey: Love it. Love it. Love it. Love it. So it's really clear that you're doing a lot of good work to help young people in our corner of the world. So I wanna ask this question of you is how can the wider community, how can the folks in and around Chester County support your organization and the work you're doing?

Richard Roberts, III: Oh, yeah. I mean, we can never have too many partners. Our enrollment is growing, and we like to have opportunities for the scholars. So we love for them to, yeah, at the very least, become a partner. Get involved. Right? It's a safe space for your employees, we know it's a safe space for the scholars. And by them getting involved, I guarantee that they're going to love the experience and wanna come back. So that's very, that's at the very least.

Second, obviously, it takes a couple of dollars to do a few things, so we can always use funding. Always. We are also having an endowment, and I wouldn't even call it an endowment fund. Let's just call it a scholarship fund. We aspire to have an endowment fund because every scholar that participates in our program and graduates from high school, everyone's guaranteed to earn a scholarship, whether it's to the trades, community college, or 4-year college, every scholar is guaranteed to earn that. So we can always use the funding for that.

Liam Dempsey: Sure.

Richard Roberts, III: We can always use the funding for programming. In 2 weeks, I'm taking our middle school scholars to a county competition in Atlanta, Georgia. They have other programs there as well, but wouldn't it be nice to take up the winners of our Science Expo to this and compete at the national local? And so it takes funding for those programs.

The week following, I'm taking 48 high schoolers to a college tour. We're going to Hampton, Virginia, then we're going down to Georgia Tech, Georgia State, and then we're gonna come back up. Then we're all, we're gonna go over to Savannah State by the shore, and then we're gonna come back up to Virginia State University. You know? That's gonna be a $15,000 tab. So we can always use support in those services.

On Saturdays, we have what are called special interest groups. We call them SIGs. So those 9 chapters across the region that we have, we give them an opportunity to come to the state-of-the-art headquarters that we have, where we have a robotics lab, where we have all other kinds of technology. We have a jazz ensemble. We have a choir. And so all these students come from afar to be here on Saturdays where we feed them.

Now, how are they gonna get here? Well, we have, we've been blessed to receive a grant to receive to get a 15-passenger van, but we actually went on an average of 4 additional vans per week. So sometimes we have 5 or 6 vans. When we go out into the communities at our local chapter sites, we pick up these scholars. We bring them here. We feed them. They enjoy the experience, and then we take them back home safely. So always can use the funding for transportation cause.

When we do our summer programs, we rent on average about 4 buses a week, taking scholars to the Franklin Institute or other field trips. And sometimes, you know, we're dealing with a bus company that they have their own challenges. Sometimes, you know, things happen, out of our control.

So there's a lot of lot of barriers right there that we experience. So, you know, I can go on and on like many other nonprofits can go on. Well, those are some of the benefits, or some of the things that an organization such as YWIC is experiencing and can use help in.

Liam Dempsey: So I think that is a helpful way to talk about it. Yes, Every nonprofit needs money, but here's a practical way of how we incur those costs. And here's what we're trying to do while we incur those costs. And they're not things that you can get away from. Right? If you want the children to get to you, particularly coming from some of the communities they're coming from, they might not have a family car or enough family cars to get you. So that's a great way to spell that out. That's very clear. Thank you for that.

Richard Roberts, III: Absolutely.

Liam Dempsey: With your organization's focus on preparing the leaders of tomorrow, getting them through school, and embracing school more than just through, and getting them into the college or trade or a career of their choice, it's all about ultimately putting them on good footing. I have to ask, is the YMWIC hiring? Are you looking for help?

Richard Roberts, III: Oh, absolutely. Woo hoo.

Liam Dempsey: You liked that question, did you?

Richard Roberts, III: Yeah. We, I mentioned the pre-apprenticeship program. We actually received some funding to launch Stairway to Career, if you will. And it's our workplace readiness and career development program. And so it integrates in what we already do, but now we have an allocated resource, full-time funding for allocated resource, full-time that is sustainable.

And their focus is, again, we're already doing this service, but now we have a way to focus on it. And so this role does career business, specific at the at the scholar family level. It has academic readiness. It deals with the college application process. And it deals with coaching families on the FAFSA forms, just as an example. It oversees our job shadowing program. It oversees our internship program, and it develops, it enhances our relationships with current partners so that our scholars could be in a position to compete, you know, among their peers for various jobs. And also, this role oversees the pre-apprenticeship program. So that's one job. Right?

And then we have some openings on a very important role called our Project Coordinator role. This is the face of the chapter within the community, within the school district. That's very important. If you have an interest in mentoring, managing, and helping our scholars get to the promised land, this is a great, great opportunity. In fact, this role was modeled by me. Right?

When I started this program as a volunteer, I was the Project Coordinator. Right? And so I documented, you know, and put a training program around this role. And so that's how I built it, by hiring someone that has these transitional skills, transferable skills, and allowing them to step in. And that's how I expanded and countinue to expand the program.

Liam Dempsey: Your engineering aspects came out there documenting everything, putting a system in place.

Richard Roberts, III: Yep. Yep.

Richard Roberts, III: I love it. I love it. We focus on highlighting the good work that good people are doing in and around Chester County That's a big part of what we're doing on Start Local. Is there a local business, non-profit or other organization that you think more folks should know about?

Richard Roberts, III: Is your question other than YMWIC coverage?

Liam Dempsey: Well, they know about you now because you're on the show. So, yes, someone else. Fair question.

Richard Roberts, III: Yeah. So, you know, we get some, we get funding from the county and the state, and the county and the state, they, those guys and gals do a great job in making a contribution in a community. And so we're blessed to be one of those partners. You know, there's a few others, but I'll just name one, Trevor Trellis. They do good work in the community.

There's an organization in Kennett Square that they do good work. The name escapes me right now. My apologies. But, I would say that, and then the economic development center of Chester County, they do some good work with, you know, exposing children to, you know, medical careers. And so they've managed to assemble, you know, a variety of nonprofits that I believe complement each other and allows them to make a contribution toward impacting Chester County. You know? So, you know, if you, I think if you can easily look on their website, you could see those nonprofits that they serve. Right? And, but, and I would be, I'd be remiss by not advocating for those, because you know, we meet on a quarterly basis. So I would definitely vouch for them. They're doing good work. In fact, we've done some partnering activities with them as well in some of their projects.

Liam Dempsey: Excellent. And we'll be sure to put links to those organizations on our show notes over at []. That's []

Richard Roberts, III: Okay.

Liam Dempsey: Rick Roberts, Executive Director of the YMWIC Foundation, thank you so much for joining us today. Before we wrap up, please share where folks can find you online, learn more about you and your organization.

Richard Roberts, III: Sure. You know, so our website is []. That's []. And as you know, YMWIC stands for Young Men and Women In-Charge. So that you know, we have a, I think we have a fairly comprehensive website, and there's a way for you to reach directly to me, or learn more about our program, a way to get involved. We have a way for volunteers to get involved, a way for parents to wanna know more about it so their child can get involved, but, I believe that the website does a fairly good job in providing that information.

Liam Dempsey: Excellent. We'll be sure to link to that on the show notes as well.

Thanks everybody for listening.

As a reminder, we publish every fortnight, every 2 weeks. The best way to know when we have a new episode out is to subscribe for updates over on our website at []. Otherwise, you can find us anywhere. Fantastic podcasts are available wherever you listen to yours, and you can even tell your smart speaker to play the Start Local podcast.

Thanks for listening. Bye for now.