A week before high school commencement exercises, a dozen Harlem High School students graduated from a program designed to give them a taste of real-world business skills.
The students completed the nine-month Youth Ambassadors to Business and Industry program, a club formed through Columbia County Community Connections with a state grant. The program is designed to connect them with the Columbia County business industry and its leaders to help develop the teens' work skills.
"They stuck with it all this year," Julie Miller, Community Connections executive director, said at the graduation ceremony May 16 at Red Oak Manor in Harlem. "I am really proud of them for doing that. It shows a lot of perseverance, things they will need when they go off and try to make their own way in the world."
The new program, which aimed to give the students a sense of the skills they will need in the workforce, exposed them to the world of work through seminars, hands-on activities, field trips, conversations with area business leaders, after-school meetings and group projects.
"I joined the Youth Ambassadors to Business and Industry to help out my community," said club member Geneishea Beard, who said she plans to be involved in the club again next year. "By helping out my community, I learned leadership skills, confidence and self-esteem."
Each member created a marketing campaign to raise funds for the Ronald McDonald House, a charity they chose to help through a penny drive. Students were given four homerooms as their target market and were tasked with creating a catchy slogan, communicating the mission to their classmates, creating a functional and attention-getting collection jar, and making a presentation to three outside judges.
The project raised more than $300 for Ronald McDonald House.
"That's pretty awesome," Miller said.
Mariana Robinson, an AmeriCorps volunteer working with the YABI group, presented awards for the campaigns to Rayleen Lewis for Best Presentation, Freiya Schlientz for Best Container, Geneishea Beard for Best Slogan and LaTraya Murray for Best Overall Campaign.
The students also learned about event planning by working with Lee Ann Meyer, of Red Oak Manor, to plan their graduation ceremony.
Cheteka Allen, assistant director of Community Connections, was the guest speaker at the graduation.
"If you see a good fight, jump in it," she said.
She encouraged the students to fight stereotypes of all kinds, including the one that all teens are lazy.
"It is so rare that teenagers get excited about the fight for education," Allen said. "The fight to give your all in all classes. Truth be told, this is the fight that is going to change your life forever. The decisions you make today will affect your tomorrow."
Anyone interested in volunteering for YABI, or starting a similar club at another high school, should contact Community Connections at (706) 556-0609 or email@example.com.
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