Odelia's big break

If you grew up in a family where your parents, uncles and aunts all attended college, you tend to think it's an automatic rite of passage. But that wasn't the case in Odelia McFadden's family. The youngest of five children in a family headed by a single parent, Odelia, 21, a graduate of Olney High School, is the first to graduate from college. It happened because she lucked into being involved in an internship program throughout high school. The internship not only gave her college-impressing credentials, but because the internship was a paid one -- eight hours a week during the school year, fulltime during the summer  -- she had enough cash for teenage necessities.

Odelia's opportunity came through the Health Tech program sponsored by the Philadelphia Youth Network. She worked at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children

This morning Odelia will be a speaker at an event held by the Philadelphia Youth Network to thank the companies who bring on high school students as interns. Last year, there were Philadelphia11,000 high school students gaining real life experience, credential and money through the internship program. Some of the interns were paid through various government initiatives -- including the stimulus bill. But 1,000 of them last summer were in employer-funded summer programs. Many of the students are involved in the WorkReady program which includes weekly classroom sessions on appropriate workplace behavior such as punctuality, etiquette and grooming.

Odelia seems to be a remarkable person. Her stint at St. Christopher's so impressed folks at Rosemont College that they awarded her a full scholarship. By taking the maximum course load and extra classes during one summer, she graduated in three years and is now enrolled in her master's at Rosemont. In between her studies, she is completing her application for the University of Pennsylvania's doctorate program in clinical psychology. Not bad for someone who contemplated being a pediatrician as a child.

Odelia spend ninth and tenth grade shadowing in St. Christopher's neonatal intensive care unit and in the short procedure unit. As a junior, she worked in the burn unit. As a senior, she was assigned to the adolescent medicine unit, which impacted her decision to go into adolescent counseling. "Children will suppress their feelings," she said, "and adults are set in their ways. Teenagers you can still mold and set them on the right path."

At the hospital, she did a variety of work -- data entry, talking to young people, checking to make sure certain safeguards were in place for some equipment. But, she also was able to cheer up patients. "The doctors and nurses were so busy. I was able to sit and comfort the patients, show them some attention."

Odelia is still involved at St. Christopher's as a volunteer to help students in the Health Tech program.  

"My advice to employers is to continue to fund these students because it has a positive impact on their lives," Odelia said.

The thank-you breakfast is being held at the Marriott in Center City. Mayor Nutter will join business leaders speaking about the program. But the best messages will be delivered by Odelia and her fellow interns, because their lives are different and their horizons are wider.