110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
Back2Basics2 program aims to help young people make a difference
By Jen Horton
posted Aug 29, 2013 - 9:36:31am
Lashamera Smith, 19, talked about being a young, black woman in Spring HIll, with no job skills.
"I think I would have been without hope," Smith said.
Instead, Smith was brimming with hope as she talked about an outreach program that changed her life.
Smith was accepted by Back2Basics2, run by Pastor Anthony Brown and his wife, Katherine.
The program takes young people with no job experience, and puts them to work. Brown and his wife created it in the largely low-income sector on DeLand's southwest side so they could get to Spring Hill's youth before the streets did, they said.
Back2Basics2 got $12,000 from a Community Development Block Grant, federal money administered by local government.
The Browns used the money to pay five young men and women — ages 15-23 — $8 an hour to intern or work in DeLand businesses for 12-16 weeks.
The young people learned job skills, improved their social skills, and learned how to dress in the workplace, how to talk to people, and how to be valued members of a team.
Smith worked at The Secret Place Bible Book Store.
She said she was a troubled youth with no plans for the future. Getting work experience helped propel her toward a better life.
"It was really different from what I expected," Smith said.
After her internship, Smith was able to find full-time employment with a health-care agency, and she has enrolled in college.
"A few years back, I wouldn't have seen myself here," Smith said. "I don't think I would have had any hope."
She had advice for her peers.
"Kids my age, you really can do anything you want. Do keep going. Don't give up," she said.
Smith said first jobs are more valuable than a young person might think.
"It is extremely important to have a reference," she said.
Gladys Girtman was Smith's employer. The program was a blessing for her, as well.
"I have a small, new business, and I can't afford to hire staff," she said.
Girtman works nights, and often comes home, takes a short nap, and then heads out to open her store.
Being able to mentor a young lady while having needed assistance at the store was good for her.
There were a lot of things Girtman said Smith needed to know about being the public face of a bookshop.
"She mastered it," Girtman said. "I think it's important to have training, and direction. You have to learn how to dress, how to talk to people. It's definitely an excellent program. The youth really need somebody to work with them."
For the coming year, Pastor Brown said, the work program may get $36,000 in funding through CDBG. If the funding is approved, he hopes to place 10-15 youths in the community, and he is seeking new employers.
"You don't have to pay anything," Brown said. "The grant pays the youth. You just have to give them a chance to work."
Ideally, Brown said, the employers will hire the young people, after the program concludes, if their budgets allow it.
Back2Basics2 is more than just work; it also encourages the young participants to evaluate their lives.
Each week, the workers gather to discuss their progress and experiences with Brown.
"We talked about the nature of your life, what you as an individual are trying to accomplish, and what you want to do with your life when this program is over," he said.
Brown said the picture is bleak for some at-risk youth. Their parents may be in jail, or they may have been exposed to drug use in their homes.
Their young hearts and minds start to believe, to accept, that there isn't anywhere to go but down.
"We're going to destroy that," he said. "We're going to completely destroy that acceptance. It has to stop somewhere."
Investing in a young person costs a lot less than paying for a jail cell, Brown said. Back2Basics2 needs donors and employers.
"We're putting a Band-Aid on a severed artery," Brown said. "We need help. We need everyone in the community to get involved."
Brown has great respect for manual-labor positions, but he wants to find internships for the youth in professional or skilled trades.
They already see people in their lives mowing lawns, and cleaning floors or toilets, he said. They need to see mechanics, administrative professionals and medical professionals, and know that those types of careers are open to them, as well.
To qualify to participate in the program, the youth's household income must be below the federal poverty level, and the household must be receiving governmental assistance.
"We want the kids to have a shot at life," Brown said. "They can make a difference."
— Editor's note: The Beacon participated in the Back 2 Basics At-Risk Youth Program in spring 2013. We had two youth, Charles Lacey Jefferson and Latisha Williamson, help in the newsroom. Jefferson is now a championship boxer, and has considered journalism as a possible career in the future; Williamson is about to become a first-time mother, and intends to finish her college education in nursing. We wholeheartedly recommend this program to employers. You have a lot to offer young people, and, they have a lot to offer you. We learned as much from Jefferson and Williamson as they learned from us.
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