When Daryl Jones and Flossie Whaley walked into a small classroom inside South Philadelphia High School, 2101 S. Broad St., April 17, they didn’t know what was waiting for them. The room was filled with other Educational Options Program students, Hot 107.9, friends, family, balloons, representatives from Unity in the Community, 186th District state Rep. Jordan Harris, and program director Audrey Nock. Their faces lit up and the room filled with roars of support and thunderous applause.
At 45 and 43, respectively, Jones and Whaley have elected to go back to school to earn their high school diplomas. But Anton Moore, CEO and founder of Unity in the Community, was there to do one of his favorite things: Give Back. On this night, it came in the form of the Ultimate Prom Experience — a gift and an honor that begins with solicited nominations. It covers everything a student who otherwise might not be able to afford attending the event could need, including tickets, shoes, outfits, hair, transportation and accessories.
“When I walked into the room and I saw my classmates and other students from the school and Unity in the Community, it lit me up inside,” Jones, a resident of the 1600 block of Morris Street and proud father of a 24-year-old daughter, Tynesha, about to graduate from North Carolina-based St. Augustine’s College, said. “I had a warm feeling inside and instead of shedding a tear, I tried to embrace it a little. I came there for one thing and that was to get a diploma. From this point on I’m a part of the EOP family.”
The Newbold resident is already planning on attending Camden County Community College.
“I’m going to take my placement test — I already did the paperwork,” Jones noted.
He hopes to keep moving towards becoming a youth counselor. The journey began with some direction from good friend and program alum Kenneth Palmer.
“I made a pact with him that I would go and make sure I finished it because I saw how excited he was about achieving his diploma and going to school every day,” Jones said. “So when the trimester came around again, I made sure that I was in the position to do so.”
It’s clear that the success of the EOP and its students is a community-building effort. They’re told to rely on one another to sustain motivation and check each others’ excuses, as one of program director Nock’s clearest messages is “no excuses.”
“No excuses. No inappropriate behavior. No giving up,” the native of the 2400 block of South Bucknell Street said. “I remind them that we are a family and that we need to support each other. You have to call each other and if someone’s not in school, then see what’s going on and encourage them not to give up or use an excuse.”
Nock even ticked off a couple of the ones she’s heard before: “My child is sick — no, you should have a family member help with childcare. I don’t have a TransPass — someone can help you buy or afford one. No excuses.”
Moore first brought the idea for helping students get to their prom after seeing students getting ready for a prom on a bus ride from New York City.
“Nobody should be denied a prom experience due to finances,” the resident of the 2000 block of Snyder Avenue said.
The 2011 South Philly Review Difference Maker presented the idea to his core group and had to do a little convincing: “Some were on the fence, but I liked the idea, so I made sure it went off.”
The first recipient of the award was Iyonna West, a World Communications Charter School student. But since then, the process has gotten bigger and better. Nominations are accepted via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the organization website, unityinthecommunity215.com. And even though last year’s recipients got a ride to their prom with a Porsche driven by Harris, this year is extra special because it honors students who are doing something just about every South Philadelphian can applaud.
“It’s perfect because it sends a positive message to the community that it’s never too late to go back to school or to get your education,” Moore, whose mother is also in the program this spring, said. “You have to put your pride to the side — I know it’s tough.”
It’s a passion project for Harris, who spoke at last year’s commencement services.
“The theme is It’s Never Too Late. The program they do at South Philly High is an amazing program that gives our adults the opportunity to go back to high school and get their diploma but also to get to experience things they might not have and experience a full graduation,” he said from his office at 1310 Point Breeze Ave.
“I’m overly committed to this program because I understand that everyone deserves a diploma, I understand that it’s the key that unlocks the chains of oppression and poverty.”
Whaley is composing her own success story thanks to Nock’s words of encouragement.
“I worked hard and I love the program,” the North Philadelphia resident and mother of 9-year-old Jaydenn, said. “[Nock] runs [the program] with an iron fist but she’s trying to push you to be better.”
Career plans may soon include moving to the other side of the teacher’s desk.
“I love children. They’re like little sponges,” Whaley said.
Moore was able to cull together quite a collection of charitable community members to contribute to the cause: Faheem Alexander from Hand of Precision, 2100 S. 20th St.; Charlene Wilson of Mitchum Wilson Funeral home, 1410 S. 20th St., will provide a suit; Lena Hill of Honey Accessories; Antwain Davis will provide Whaley’s shoes care of A Disease Called Hope; and Zakiya Black from Zyn Beauty, a new traveling beauty services company, will beautify her with hair and makeup.
“We really believe that every woman feels better when she has some time to devote to her beauty, and this is a great opportunity to do what we love do,” Black, a resident of the 1300 block of South 16th Street said. “They seemed really excited and humbled that they were getting so much support and it was nice to be a part of it. That’s something that they should experience more often, just to be center stage and show off their accomplishment.”
Contact Staff Writer Bill Chenevert at email@example.com or ext. 117.