Deborah Adekunle, a 16-year-old high school intern in FabNewport’s PVD Young Makers program, moved to Providence from Nigeria 5 years ago. Debbie, as she likes to be called, was introduced to the PVD Young Makers program through Wanskuck Community Library’s makerspace. In the three years since she got involved in PVD Young Makers, Debbie’s commitment to her own growth, as well as those middle school students she now mentors, has caught the attention of lots of people in Providence, and even some outside the city.
For the 2020-2021 school year, Debbie was chosen to represent PVD Young Makers as a Youth Ambassador in the Afterschool Alliance, a national organization that works to ensure that all youth have access to affordable, quality afterschool programs. As part of our coverage during Black History Month, FabNewport is excited to highlight Debbie’s incredible work and achievements during the past three years!
In her early years with FabNewport, Debbie was a consistent mentor to young students at Wanskuck Community Library. She helped younger students gain skills in design, 3D printing, and vinyl cutting, in part because of the great trust she built with her students.
When the pandemic hit, Debbie searched for new methods of community outreach. She used her sewing skills to make masks for community members in need. As FabNewport moved into the virtual learning realm, Debbie conducted empathy interviews with her peers with the goal of improving distance learning and incorporating more social-emotional support for students.
This past summer, she took her passion for youth advocacy to new levels. Debbie became the lead student representative of FabNewport’s HackEducation, an initiative working to transform educational experiences for Providence youth with a focus on quality afterschool programming.
Debbie current focus is on partnering with the larger Providence community to advocate for a sex-education curriculum update in the Providence School district. She has taken on this project because she recognizes the increasing need to teach youths about sickle cell anemia, the risks in conceiving a sickle-cell anemia child, and how to prevent it.
All of Debbie’s impressive community work led the Afterschool Alliance to take notice of her and inviting her to be one of their national Youth Ambassadors for the 2020-2021 school year. According to the Alliance, “Each year, [we] recruit a cohort of youth to serve as Youth Ambassadors. The cohort is trained as after school advocates—receiving training on how to talk about their afterschool experience in the context of the national afterschool field and guidance on how to advocate policy makers using their afterschool story.” Of Debbie, the Alliance said, “Through her two afterschool programs, Debbie has been able to make an incredible impact in her community.”
In her role as a Youth Ambassador, this past November Debbie participated in both the Rhode Island celebration and the national celebration of the Afterschool Alliance’s annual Lights On Afterschool event (the only nationwide event celebrating afterschool programs and their important role in the lives of children, families and communities). For the Rhode Island celebration, Congressman David Cicilline introduced Debbie as the keynote speaker. She spoke about the importance of community partnerships in creating success afterschool programs. Minutes after wrapping up her presentation, Debbie zoomed off to speak during the virtual national Lights On Afterschool celebration.
This month, again in her role as a Youth Ambassador, Debbie was a featured speaker during the Alliance’s Youth Voice Week. Speaking about the importance of community partnerships, she explained, “Community partnerships are just a beautiful thing, they produce diverse impacts, share strengths and expertise and provide support. We should always aim to collaborate with the community around us.”