Twenty-one high school students recently graduated from the city of Statesboro’s second-annual summer Youth Connect program after five weeks learning core job skills from co-workers and supervisors in real workplaces.
Each teenager was assigned to one of six departments of the city government or four other participating local employers. The students received a $7.25 hourly stipend, equivalent to the federal minimum wage, for 30 hours a week. With full participation this totaled a little over $1,000 each, funded by the city.
Charlize Bonds, who will be starting her senior year at Statesboro High School next month, spent her five weeks working with the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit Public Defenders Office.
“During this five-week period I not only learned teamwork, I also learned how to deal with ill-mannered people over calls, how to file and scan, how to organize files, how to communicate within the workplace, civility,” Bonds said.
It showed her “how fun it could be to work in an office under all different types of circumstances,” she added in public remarks during the Youth Connect completion ceremony July 1.
After finishing high school, Bonds plans to enroll at Claflin University in South Carolina and major in child psychology or business studies. She was one of two students who spoke.
But all 21 students had their names called to receive program diplomas during the ceremony in the council chambers at City Hall. Mayor Jonathan McCollar praised the students but told them they must continue working hard and making wise choices to make the most of their lives. He and other city officials also expressed appreciation to the students’ parents and work supervisors.
Changed from 2021
The inaugural Youth Connect in the summer of 2021 had given its 17 graduates four weeks of part-day work experience after a full week of orientation classes at City Hall. After that, a portion of each day had been spent in lessons on “soft skills” such as customer service, telephone etiquette, workplace civility and teamwork. Students spent the remainder of each six-hour day for four weeks in the assigned workplaces.
But this year, the program was modified to give students more on-the-job learning hours.
“What we learned was we wanted to give the students more time on their work assignment, so they at first spent just two days with me in the orientation and on-boarding and then spent the remainder of the five weeks with their supervisors on-site,” said city Human Resources Director Demetrius Bynes, who also directs Youth Connect.
Officially it’s not an internship program but a pre-professional experience that gives high school students a look at careers and teaches them general workplace skills. The city also hosts some college students in actual internships, as a separate program.
But Youth Connect students do report learning job-specific things.
“During my internship, I learned what it takes to grow a small business,” Taniyah Johnson, 17, said in her graduation remarks. “From marketing to financing, small business owners carry a lot of responsibilities.”
Johnson was assigned to Georgia Southern University’s Business Innovation Group, or BIG, which is based near City Hall in the university’s City Center. But her experience with BIG took her farther afield. Involved in research for the agency’s ongoing and future projects, Johnson visited some area entrepreneurs and even went to Tybee Island to conduct surveys on the beach.
Now she will be taking college courses through dual-enrollment at Georgia Southern while remaining a Georgia Connections Academy student for her senior year of high school. Beyond that, Johnson plans to study nonprofit administration at a university and continue her education for a master’s degree in public policy.
The 2022 Statesboro Youth Connections graduates are Charlize Bonds, Travon Browne, Megan Donaldson, Javon Evans, Nija Garrett, Gabriel Glover, Trevon Harden, Chatanesia Hendrix, Quailnija Hills, Kylan Ifeji, Jacob Imhoff, Taniyah Johnson, Chloe Jones, Jaydon Lawson, Aaliyah Rice, Yasmin Riden, Laylah Scarboro, Colin Sikes, Cori Smith, Dyman Young and Sparkle Young.
All but one of these students are Statesboro residents, and the one exception is a child of a city employee, as also allowed in the program rules.
This year, the city’s human resources, finance, engineering and public works, central services, city clerk and utilities departments, as well as Statesboro Family YMCA, the Bruce, Mathews & Lavoie law firm, the Georgia Southern BIG, and the Ogeechee Circuit Public Defenders Office hosted Youth Connect students.