Summer job participants take on role as vaccine advocates

Participants in the Summer Youth Program have had a handful of face-to-face meetings with their leaders (sitting from left) Pamela Coleman, Melinda Jackson-James and Carmen Coleman.
Photo submitted

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer

Organizers of the Summer Youth Program had to pivot when the affects of COVID-19 altered schedules at the city recreation centers. They had to find other ways for the teenagers to get meaningful job experiences.

“The hope was that a lot of them would be able to go out at worksites; recreation sites where there would be children involved, but the children are not there because of COVID,” said Melinda Jackson-James, who heads up the program. “So they are there in offices doing tasks that they can handle.”

Additionally, the 30 teenagers are participating in the programs to help advocate COVID-19 vaccination among their peers. That is a vital part of having the program, said Jackson-James.

The targeted demographic is young people of color because of growing statistics that show Blacks are among the most hesitant to get the vaccine.

When the program ends later this month, Jackson-James said, participants should “feel comfortable when they come out of this to share with their teen friends the importance of taking the vaccine.”

The work experience is a big deal with the group whose ages range from 14 to 18. They earn $10 per hour, whether their shifts are from noon to 4 or 1 to 5 p.m.

Some of them have an opportunity to work with children at a daycare, the Urban League or Bethel Christian Academy. Other job venues include Knowles and Randolph law firm, FAMU College of Nursing, Bethel Towers, the Tax Collectors office and the City of Midway.

Tying vaccination advocacy to the jobs program comes from a proposal written by former city commissioner Elaine Bryant, who is director of the Statewide Coronavirus Vaccination Community Education and Engagement Task Force. In part, the program is funded by Leon County government and other sources.

The workweek begins on Mondays and ends on Thursdays for the participants who begin most days meeting in person or virtually with Jackson-James as well as her assistants Pamela Coleman and Carmen Coleman. Some days the children begin by hearing from motivational speakers or experts on the COVID-19 vaccination.

“We try to create presentations that will build their interpersonal relationships, character development and other factors that will support life skills,” Jackson-James said.

There is plenty of evidence that teenagers benefit from summer jobs. National studies have found that in addition to the work experience they gain that could be added to their resumes, they develop time-management skills.

Additionally, teens who work during the summer months gain confidence through the responsibilities they may be given. They also create a network of like-minded friends and become more confident.

With the shift that had to be made from the original plan for placing the participants, jobs were hand-picked for most of them, said Pamela Coleman. Through the first week, their feedback has been encouraging.

“It’s been an eye-opening experience for a lot of them and it made them think outside of the box for themselves; maybe I can go to the school of nursing; what does a tax collector do or maybe I do like to deal with kids,” Pamela Coleman said. “It’s opening their horizons to other things that they might be interested in doing.”

Christal Williams is finding that working with FAMU’s School of Nursing is an ideal set-up for her career. She wants to study agriculture, with an emphasis on being a veterinarian for farm animals. 

“This can help me – the medicine part—because animals are going to have to be given medicine,” Williams said, adding that she wants to “learn all I could every day from this experience.

 “I’m really excited for the opportunity.”

Williams is a rising freshman at Rickards High School. Her future schoolmate Brantley Gibson is working at the Tax Collector’s office, which he considers a good fit because he wants a career in business or marketing.

“I hope to achieve a lot of good experiences working the job,” said Gibson. 

He doesn’t encounter too many young people on the job but he plans to have the COVID-19 vaccination conversation with as many of his peers as possible. “I’m trying to defuse that skepticism or that fear,” he said.

Camille Armstrong is a sophomore at Rickards where she is also on the track team. Her summer schedule is filled between competing with the Tallahassee Zoom travel track team and the summer job program. 

The opportunity to hold down a job during the summer is a first for Armstrong, but she said the payoff will be valuable.

 “I anticipate this will be something that I can learn from; something I can use later on in life,” said Armstrong, who is a teacher’s assistant at Bethel Christian Academy. “For instance, I can learn about the COVID vaccine and tell people what to do.”

Part of the conversation that the teenagers have with their leaders is about their job experiences. However, not all of them have been talkative.

 “They are shy and as we keep talking with them and having speakers, our goal is that all of them will become more talkative,” said Carmen Coleman. “Right now we are trying to have that environment where they feel comfortable to talk with us and talk with other youths, but we are trying to have speakers come in and talk with them about COVID and let them know it’s real. It doesn’t discriminate with who it hits. Even young people are affected so that’s where we are right now.”

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