Local Foster Teens Breaking Barriers Through Work Experience and Collaboration

There are currently 19,000 children in foster care in Florida. Many of these children and teens are slighted from the opportunity to learn valuable tools of the trade and pursue higher education in their own individual interests. A group of organizations here in Lake Nona and across Central Florida are looking to provide these teenagers with a valuable opportunity to refine their skills and carve their own path into the professional world.

As of July 16, 17 teens in foster care started their second week of a four-week summer apprenticeship program designed to teach them about careers in the skilled trades. This program is sponsored by The Career Builder pilot program, designed in partnership between Community Based Care of Central Florida (CBCCF) and CareerSource Central Florida’s Career Connexions Youth Program to provide foster youth with an opportunity for hands-on training in a specific industry. The hope is that by participating in these internship programs, students will be inspired to further pursue these industries into higher education and then into the professional world, even though they might have once believed they do not have access to these fields.

“Typically, when you ask kids in foster care what kind of careers are you interested in, a lot of times we’ll hear ‘police officer’ or ‘social worker’ or ‘attorney,’ just because those are the only careers that they know; it’s the only thing that they’re exposed to, so their knowledge base is very limited,” said Danielle Abbey of CBCCF. “There’s really just that lack of awareness of everything and the expanse of everything that’s out there for them. These are possibilities they never imagined for themselves.”

Many of the participating businesses in this program include some notable employers for the area, specifically Lake Nona’s own Nemours Children’s Hospital. Others include 15 lightyears, Titan Electric, AMB Rental and Reed Nissan. The participating teens work up to 40 hours each week and earn minimum wage performing duties similar to that of an entry-level employee. These positions range from home energy evaluator, auto service technician, pharmacy technician and construction site management, among other career path positions. “We want to help give them the skills necessary to succeed in the future,” said Jason Lietz of CareerSource Central Florida.

Students for the program are selected on the basis of being able to participate in the program and also demonstrate a sense of “workforce maturity” and willingness to learn and work in the program. Many of the students have also been selected through a partnership with First Star Central Florida Academy, where many students have been assisted from the organization since the eighth grade to help prepare them to enter adult life, the workforce, and higher education. Other students were selected due to their age, and, as they transition out of foster care, this apprenticeship allows them to get the hands-on experience they need to be successful.

Through the Nemours partnership apprenticeship program specifically, participating teens are able to work hands-on with all the different tasks of a pharmacy technician in a hospital setting. Coordinators in the program assist the teens with learning the ropes and help refine their work in each of the positions. Each week of the internship is spent learning the tools of the trade and the importance of what pharmacy technicians do.

“It’s a really rewarding experience,” said Angela Folger of Nemours. “Pharmacy technician is not a well-known career path for people. To get to share that with somebody is really exciting. It’s reminded the staff to see things through [their] eyes, the excitement and how important what we do is.”

After the success of the first year of the program, many in both CBCCF and CareerSource Central Florida Career Connexions Youth Program hope that the program will expand to other businesses and provide more opportunities to teens.

All the members of the team agreed that they see this program making a big impact in the lives of the teenagers participating, the local community, and far beyond.

Credit for this story goes to Vanessa Poulson, Nonahood News