Two women create buzz for after-school opportunities

by Tom Beck
Posted 9/6/23

Liz Harris and Amy Carolla could’ve written a check. But that seemed “a bit passive,” Harris said.

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Two women create buzz for after-school opportunities


Liz Harris and Amy Carolla could’ve written a check. But that seemed “a bit passive,” Harris said. After all, in the poorest big city in the United States, physical fitness and eating nutritious food seemed like a luxury for many in Philadelphia’s most struggling neighborhoods.

“Learning skills like meditation and getting kids outside was happening in private and suburban schools, but not in places like North Philadelphia where they needed it the most,” said Harris.

So Harris and Carolla, who met while working at Springside Chestnut Hill
Academy more than 15 years ago, decided to do something to help. And in November of 2019, they started a nonprofit, called B Inspired Philadelphia, that provides out-of-school programming that encourages wellness for middle school-aged kids from struggling Philadelphia neighborhoods. 

“We've known each other for a very long time and whatever we do we end up doing really well because we work at it together,” Harris said. Today, Harris is one of B Inspired’s two co-executive directors. Carolla, who also owns a Chestnut Hill-based gym called Balance, is on the nonprofit’s board. 

B Inspired Philadelphia serves students from four schools in the School District of Philadelphia: Dr. Tanner Duckrey School in North Philadelphia, Paul Dunbar School in Templetown, Mary McLeod Bethune School in Tioga and Morton McMichael School in Mantua. The organization is also partnered with one private school, Community Partnership School, which is in Brewerytown. The nonprofit serves about 250 students in total from all five schools.

The programming features lots of physical activity, ranging from activities like hiking in the Wissahickon to skateboarding and team sports like basketball and lacrosse. It also features partnerships with cultural institutions, like the Philadelphia Ballet, the Barnes Foundation and the Woodmere Art Museum, and opportunities to enhance math and writing skills. Students enrolled in these schools can partake in either B Inspired’s after-school programming or its summer camps.

One of the program’s biggest challenges, according to Carolla, is to get kids outside of their communities and explore new environments.

“The kids were mesmerized by hiking in the Wissahickon,” said Carolla. “It was a brand new experience for them. Some thought they’d encounter wolves.”

Semaj Sanders is a 15-year-old intern for B Inspired who was formerly a student in the program two years ago. His responsibilities include making sure the kids are safe, having fun and “never not being active,” he said.

But when Sanders was a student in the program, hiking, he told Wissahickon, was one of his favorite parts of the experience. (This is despite all the bugs, he said, which were “irritating.”)

“The hiking was adventurous and different,” he said. “I would recommend it.”

He also improved his math skills, learned to love lacrosse and made friends.

“It showed me how to be a leader,” he said. “I learned a lot of different things, especially to not knock stuff until you try it.”

Jena Kotb, another intern and former student of the program who is 16, said one of her favorite parts of the experience was when she participated in a group tour of Arcadia University and West Chester University. 

“The trip opened the idea of what colleges would look like,” said Kotb. “It gave me an idea of what direction my future could take and where I wanted to be when I’m older.”

The trips to both universities helped Kotb learn that she wants to either be a lawyer or a surgeon when she grows up. 

“A lot of kids this year and last year went through that same experience,” she said.

Like Sanders, Kotb said she learned a lot about leadership. She also learned better communication skills and became more independent.

“Communicating is a really big one,” she said. “I had to get out of my comfort zone and really communicate with people, and it’s helped me out in high school.”

Prior to B Inspired, Kotb was always scared to travel around the city using public transportation. Typically, if she took SEPTA, she’d go with her mom or sister. But her mom’s and sister’s work schedules became too busy to always travel with Kotb, forcing her to take SEPTA alone when traveling to and from B Inspired programming and elsewhere in the city. 

“I had to learn how to be independent and take SEPTA buses, and I actually did it,” she said.

Ultimately, Kotb’s key to success was learning how to get outside her comfort zone – and that’s her main piece of advice for younger students entering the program.

“Always go out of your comfort zone,” she said, “because that will get you to a point in your life where you’re successful.”

Kotb’s and Semaj’s experiences demonstrate one of B Inspired’s biggest challenges, Carolla said, which is getting students to venture outside their neighborhoods and communities. 

“Without these programs and without bringing it to the schools, these kids wouldn't have that out-of-school time,” she said, “which is the game changer, especially in Philadelphia.”

And the programs are always changing. This year, Harris said, the team noticed some of their students had some serious basketball talent. So next year, the B Inspired team is going to work on creating some more robust basketball programs.

“We’d like to offer programming with experts who come in and teach skills and drills and give the kids the opportunity to use that as an access towards a better education as well,” Harris said. “That always goes hand in hand with the education component.”

Will Martin, B Inspired’s director of summer programming, said that all the students who have participated in B Inspired have been “awesome.” 

“They come in and they're kind of shy,” he said. “But as you start to build trust they start showing you who they are.”