180 Degrees Empowerment Center offers opportunities for area youth

13502588_659102580913805_4113438828867297511_oDepressed areas create despair for residents and youth alike, and a sense that opportunity exists elsewhere. But Terry Vassar of Brownsville, Pennsylvania, decided that he could make it where he lives, and raise others up in the process, through his 180° Empowerment Center, a 501.3c organization headquartered in Brownsville.

Vassar, proud father of five children and a Windows R Us franchise owner, explains the inspiration for the Center’s name: “180 is about making a complete turn-around. Anytime anyone came to Jesus, they would have their life turned around 180 degrees.”

From high school graduation until about age 28, Vassar said that while he had a good family, “…some of us find love in different places, and I found mine in drugs and street life. But at 28, I realized I had no life, and went back to school,” adding that once he rededicated his life to Christ, he didn’t need to go to rehab to quit his habits.

After completing a degree in Ministerial Studies from Shiloh Bible Institute, Vassar worked as a telemarketer where he “ . . . learned how to be a communicator and have people skills,” which benefitted him though managerial and mortgage broker jobs, and would later help bring the Center to the Brownsville community.

14054553_683504928473570_3336914508211999575_oVassar’s experiences on the street, along with personal development through hard work, seeded the idea for 180° Empowerment Center in 2007. However, it took time to build connections with the school district, and create a location, at 165 Market Street in Brownsville. Once in place, he moved ahead with his vision, working with Brownsville Area School District Superintendent Dr. Philip Savini, Jr., Ph. D, to bring the Center’s outreach programs to the district, starting in December of this year.

The Center provides English, math, and Spanish tutoring for 7-12 grades, along with PSSA, SAT, and ACT preparation. In addition, grief counseling, career awareness, student aid workshops, and suicide awareness and prevention programs are available to the area students, or anyone in need.

On request, life development courses and credit counseling are also available.

California University interns from the Department of TRIO and the Hispanic Student Association have stepped in to volunteer their tutoring skills. Lisa Driscoll from the Department of TRIO and Academic Services facilitates the relationship between California University and the Center.

“She’s awesome and it’s been a great partnership. She was instrumental in getting everything in line to start in December,” Vassar said of Driscoll.

Furthering technical literacy skills for Brownsville school district students is Fab Lab, which as Vassar calls “A new, 21st century way of doing design.”

Fab Lab, instructed by Brandon Prentice from Intermediate Unit 1, features classes in Laser Cutting, 3D Printing for Beginners, and a Vinyl Sticker Tutorial. While working through these classes, students learn about design software and 3D modeling to produce projects for the individual class instructions. New Fab Lab classes will form in early 2017.

Vassar’s message for the area is a positive one: “I believe that people in the Mon Valley area, because of the depression, believe they can’t do it here. But by the grace of God, I am. I want kids to be able to duplicate what I’ve done. I want kids to find out what they love to do, and work on developing their strengths.”

Those wishing to donate and/or participate: 180degreesempowerment.com/about, and click on “Lend a Helping Hand.”

Photos: (top) Students show off self portraits made during Fab Lab (bottom) Students participated in a basketball clinic offered by the Center at Brownsville Area High School this past August. Future clinics are planned.

Story by Keren Lee Dreyer for Pennsylvania Bridges