Thursday, August 16, 2012
Local teens were doing more than just playing basketball at 16 community centers across the city this summer.
They were participating in job readiness internships, creating quilts for cancer patients, taking photographs, preparing healthy meals for themselves and learning cosmetology skills through an initiative called STUNTING. An acronym for students that unite and take initiative against gangs, STUNTING was provided through a partnership between Chattanooga Parks and Recreation, Prevention and Youth Development and First Things First.
“With STUNTING we tried to provide activities and programs that teens asked us for through the summer to help keep them off the streets,” said Prevention and Youth Development Services activity coordinator Marcus Thomas. “This summer we had 354 teens participate.”
Shorhonda White, a 16-year-old Red Bank High School student, and Devonta Tumlin, a 15-year-old Howard High School student, were two of those teens.
For White, this summer was an opportunity to learn job readiness skills through a six-week internship and earn money of her own for the first time. Through the Next in Line program that is part of STUNTING, White and other teens were provided with a work opportunity to help community center staff during the ongoing Kidz Camps this summer.
“I learned how to be responsible, because I had to make sure [the kids] were in line and help clean up,” said White. “I also learned that there are consequences for not doing the job.”
According to Thomas, participants in Next in Line were required to clock in and out, call ahead if they were going to be absent and wear a uniform, just like they would at a regular job. He said White only missed one day out of the six-week program and earned the Greta Hayes Intern and Leadership award at the STUNTING end-of-summer awards show, in addition to a $300 stipend.
“A lot of my friends don’t care about jobs, but I liked it because I got to go to the mall last weekend and buy clothes and shoes for school,” said White of her internship. “It felt good to spend my own money because I knew I wasn’t spending my mama’s money.”
Another positive of participating in the internship was staying out of trouble, she said.
“It feels better earning money the right way,” she said. “When you earn money the wrong way there’s always a chance of getting killed. I like coming to the center because it’s safer than being out on the streets.”
Tumlin agreed that coming to the community center helps keep him out of trouble. He won an award this summer for the Games-A-Rama program in which participants played a variety of board games, and also participated in Listen Up!, a program where he learned about music genres and music industry production. Both are under the STUNTING umbrella.
“We heard a lot of music and talked about the quality, the content and the message,” he said.
A fan of rap, Tumlin said the program helped him learn more about the industry and the Federal Communications Commission rules that regulate it. He also participated in STUNTING’s Grillin’ with B program, through which he learned to cook healthy meals. Tumlin said he might like to work in a restaurant one day and hopes these summer programs help him with that.
This year the STUNTING initiative grew by more than 100 participants and included countless successes, from getting new teens off the street to teaching valuable job skills that can last a lifetime, said Chattanooga Parks and Recreation Public Relations Director Brian Smith.
Some of this summer’s biggest successes, according to Thomas, were hiring four former Next in Line participants as staff and seeing more teenage girls get involved with the program.
“Just like young men, gangs are attracted to young ladies as well,” he said. “We need good female role models too so we hired more young women to work as staff this summer and tried to fill a void we had last year.”