Twenty-eight-year-old Tierra Jones from East Falls spends her work hours crunching numbers and data-mining in front of a computer screen as a medical claims auditor.
In her free time, however, she’s trying to make life better for children in the North Philadelphia neighborhood where she grew up. She mentors underserved youth through her nonprofit organization A.T.T.R.A.C.T. Philly.
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Jones established the nonprofit, which runs out of Penrose Recreation Center in the Hartranft neighborhood, after graduating from Pennsylvania State University in 2010. With the help of a team of volunteers of like-minded college graduates and college students, she provides free educational and cultural resources to help empower youth, including scholarships and internship opportunities.
“I grew up in the heart of North Philly and wanted to give today’s youth a foundation I didn’t have growing up,” she said. “My parents were supportive, but they didn’t know how to go about getting the resources I needed – like how to apply for college or the proper reading curriculum to prepare for college.
“I wanted to create a safe haven for underserved youth,” she added. “All the programs are geared to education, but in way that shows that it can be fun. I emphasize with them that while material things like iPhones and the latest sneakers can be taken from you, you will always have your education.”
“When you love what you do, you make the time for it. It is all worth it when you see these kids not becoming another statistic.” – Tierra Jones
One of her newest programs is Queen’s Code, for girls aged 8 to 16. With a motto of “There is a queen in all of you: embrace it, live it, own it,” the 10-week program teaches young ladies to embrace their inner beauty, build their confidence and go for their dreams. It started after Jones saw a lot of fighting and bullying in the neighborhood around the community center.
“Each session of the program,” she said, “focuses on a different lesson. One day we will work on creating vision boards to help them visualize their dreams and set goals and then during another session we will make care packages for girls in Ghana.”
Besides Queen’s Code, she hosts a toy drive at Christmas, an annual community day in August as well as regular movie nights where the kids can make snacks and enjoy a movie, and then discuss it afterwards.
Jones is at the center several days a week so she really gets to know the kids well.
“I want them to know there is always someone there for them that they can call,” she said.
NoneTHOM CARROLL/PHILLYVOICETierra Jones, second from right, founder of the nonprofit A.T.T.R.A.C.T. Philly, runs a program to mentor young girls while helping them build confidence and work toward achieving their goals.
‘IT MEANS A LOT TO ME’
Jones is always on-the-go. She tries to work her auditing job in Conshohocken from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., so she can get to the community center in North Philly by 3:15 p.m., when the kids get out of school. She wouldn’t have it any other way.
“When you love what you do, you make the time for it, she said. “It is all worth it when you see these kids not becoming another statistic.”
Jones, who has a master of science degree with a concentration in nonprofit development, global leadership and technology from Fairleigh Dickinson University, is working on getting corporate sponsors to raise money for her own building, which she hopes will help sustain the nonprofit for years to come.
One particularly defining moment for Jones occurred last August, at a Community Day Back to School Drive where she distributes backpacks filled with school supplies. Near the end of the event, a parent came up to her and offered to make a donation to express her gratitude for how the program helped her daughter, who is now in college. She told Jones that it lifted a huge weight off her shoulders to have the extra resources for her family.
Such moments make all the hard work worth it, Jones said.
“I don’t have kids of my own, but I know what it means to go without, to go through tough times, so it means a lot to me to see that what I do makes a difference.”