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First-ever Youth Connect summer program graduates 17 teenagers
City initiative provided $7.25 hourly stipend, soft skills classes, on-the-job experiences

Seventeen high school students ages 14-17 have now completed five weeks of core job skills training and internship-like experiences with Statesboro’s city government and cooperating agencies in the inaugural Statesboro Youth Connect summer program.

It provided a mix of classroom and on-the-job training totaling 30 hours a week while students received a $7.25 hourly stipend, equivalent to the federal minimum wage. This was authorized for 20 participants, and 82 teenagers initially applied, but after 20 were chosen, 19 started the program and 17 completed it.

After an introductory week, each student was assigned to work 18 hours of each week for the remaining month with a single agency: either the city’s central services, engineering, planning and development, finance, public utilities or human resources department or the city clerk’s office, the Statesboro Fire Department, Keep Statesboro-Bulloch Beautiful, the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit Public Defender’s Office or Georgia Southern University’s Business Innovation Group.

“This program has taught me to plan for the future, because if you fail to plan your future, you plan to fail in your future,” Laylah Scarboro, 14, told City Council, the mayor and their audience Tuesday. “I have learned not only how to get a job but also how to keep it. I have learned how life skills can benefit the workplace as well as everyday life.”

Wednesday was the Youth Connect students’ last day on the job, but they had a sort of graduation ceremony during Tuesday morning’s council meeting. All 17 heard their names called and stepped forward to receive certificates of participation.

Then Scarboro was the first of two Youth Connect completers, who also happened to be two of the youngest, that spoke about their experiences. Since completing eighth grade at Langston Chapel Middle School in May, the daughter of Tarrasha Scarboro has been through the five-week program, including four weeks working at the Public Defender’s Office, and is now headed to ninth grade at Statesboro High School.

“I have also learned that there is more to work than just receiving a paycheck. You have to get up early in the morning and go to bed early at night in order to prepare your mind and body for daily work activities,” Laylah Scarboro said. “Now I see why my mom goes to bed so early.”


Soft skills first

Before starting their job assignments, the students went through one week of classes on basic “soft” skills such as customer service, telephone etiquette, workplace civility and teamwork.

City of Statesboro Human Resources Director Demetrius Bynes led this introductory phase and the overall program. Classes and presentations by Bynes, other city staff members and professionals from several nonprofit agencies, the university and one or two private offices such as a law firm continued during the other 12 hours each week through the month of workplace experiences.

Kylan Ifeji, also 14, a rising Statesboro High School 10th-grader, noted that within the first few days of Youth Connect, participants split into two groups and competed in planning ways to inform young people about the COVID-19 vaccine.

“The contest was actually pretty fun,” he said. “Being able to work with my group taught me how to work with a team better, as it got me out of my comfort zone,” he said.

Time management, financial literacy and mental health awareness were also among the life skills topics addressed.

Diversity, equity and inclusion constituted another session, and leadership was a repeated theme. One presentation addressed the dangers of human trafficking, including sex trafficking, as a serious concern, Ifeji noted.


Rode with the SFD

Students were given the opportunity to choose the department or agency for their job experience. Ifeji chose the Statesboro Fire Department.

“Working with the Fire Department was one of the best experiences that has ever happened to me,” Ifeji said. “Being able to experience the day-to-day work life of a firefighter was cool because I was able to experience something new every day.”

This included riding along on the department’s response to two calls the very first day, he said. In fact, Ifeji got to ride Tower 1, the flagship engine of SFD Station 1. Not surprising given his level of interest, he said that he is seriously considering a career as a firefighter.

Ifeji’s mother, Ieshia Charles, who first brought the program to his attention before he applied, indicated that she was glad she did.

“He’s become more confident, and every day it’s a new story about the Fire Department or what he’s learned with the city of Statesboro,” she said.


Chosen participants

Other students who completed the five-week experience are Chelajhia Aikens, Dxyah Andreassen, Gabriel Bermudez-Moronta, Olivia Hendrix, Brianna Howard, Amari Jones, Chloe Jones, Teon Mikell, Moira Prewitt, Aaliyah Rice, Yasmin Riden, Johnny Roberson III, Roni Rosales-Giron, Maryann Wilkerson and Alijah Wright.

Among this group are students of Statesboro STEAM, Bulloch Academy, Savannah Country Day School and Effingham County High School, as well as Statesboro High.

Participation was limited to students enrolled in grades 9 through 12 as of August 2021 who reside in the city limits of Statesboro or are dependents of city employees.

Of the 82 initial applicants, 49 met the basic eligibility requirements, and they were offered a virtual interview, Bynes said. About 35 selected an interview time and completed the process. Then an interview team consisting of city staff members and one Statesboro Youth Commission member selected the 20 participants.

City officials called Youth Connect a “pre-professional program,” not an internship, since the city has separate internship agreements for university and college students. In fact, Georgia Southern students Zakiya Daniel, summer intern to the city manager, and Malik Bells and Denayt Daniel, summer interns to the mayor, helped Bynes coordinate Youth Connect and facilitated two of the training sessions.


2022 session planned

“For this first year, I think we had a great group of students who went through the Youth Connect program, and the outcome was outstanding,” Bynes said Wednesday. “I think we’ve made a lot of great connections with young people that will pay dividends for the organization as we move forward. We’re hopeful that they will either work for us or they will stay connected to this community and serve us in some shape, form or fashion.”

Mayor Jonathan McCollar led a round of applause Tuesday for the staff members and community partner organizations that worked with the program and for the youth who participated.

“Statesboro, this is a big deal for us, and one thing that I have said and I think that the council has agreed with in their support of this is that a city that fails to invest into its young people is failing to invest into its future,” McCollar said.

The city budgeted $25,000 for this year’s program. City Manager Charles Penny called this “well invested” and noted that the mayor and council authorized another $25,000, now in the fiscal year 2022 budget, for a second installment next summer.


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