Hammons Education Leadership Programs Inc. asks local youth: How can you find the job of your dreams if you don’t even know it exists?
By: Ridge Hammons
Hammons Education Leadership Programs Inc. (HELP) takes at-risk and disabled youth and others on visits to numerous worksites around the city and the county to give them hands-on experience in jobs that might spark their interest and give them the desire to either stay in school or return to receive the training they need to accomplish their dream. In fact, that is HELP’s motto: “How can you find the job of your dreams if you don’t even know it exists?”
At HELP, we do things schools do not, and we go places that schools do not go due to legal restraints and fears of liability. We take our clients “where the action is.” We have no prepared lectures, no textbooks and no formal classes – just the experience of a job done well by those who do it best, and who are willing to share their expertise.
We work primarily with students with disabilities and those who are having problems with the law, but we also work with regular program clients who have an interest in getting a head-start on a great career, or those older folks who need some HELP getting back into successful job-seeking.
We install touch-screen computers loaded with videos and photos of our job-site visits in schools that we serve. These cutting-edge computers allow the students to virtually experience most of the real-world educational trips we take. This is onsite career mentoring, the basis of our program. We work with “second chancers” who are in trouble with the law, kids with problems caused by school attendance and misbehavior and others who may have certain mental or physical challenges.
HELP’s onsite career mentoring shows students exactly what it’s like to do a given occupation, and introduces them to any number of career paths, be it welder, pipefitter, nurse, firefighter, police officer or auto mechanic. Students get to see exactly what each career entails because HELP takes students down into the middle of the refinery; into the police academy; into the fire station; into the training center at Del Mar; into the mechanic shop to observe, interact with and shadow the professionals who are working in the field.
In HELP’s seven years of existence, we have taken more than 2,400 students on almost 250 trips to more than 100 local jobsites. Students generally complete at least one three-month rotation with us looking at different jobs every month. We go to places like the Port, Spohn Hospital, the Police Department and Valero, as well as other large and small locales where large varieties of occupations are gathered and easily experienced in close proximity.
In a survey we conducted in 2012, 94 percent of the students we interacted with either were still in school or had a job. Until every student has a career goal, this program will be needed and necessary, especially as schools are being forced to cut many of the vocational programs they do have due to budget constraints.
Other HELP Programs
In addition to onsite career mentoring, HELP also directs other programs, such as Summer Partners in Career Education (SPICE), Second Chance, the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) and a number of school-based career clubs. SPICE is an intensive month-long partnership program that takes 40 at-risk students to Del Mar, TAMUCC and Craft Training Center to show them 30-plus career paths such as welding, scaffolding, nursing and fire safety.
In its Second Chance Program, HELP contracts with the Nueces County Juvenile Justice Department to work with probationary youth in order to counter the high rates of recidivism of juveniles on probation. HELP also works with DARS to help clients with disabilities find, get and keep a job (Job Placement and Supported Employment), including support-after-hire and job coaching.
The school-to-work career club, which sponsors video “visits” to local business entities and takes professional visitors to school, is available to more than 20,000 students at 12 schools in six counties. HELP uses local grant and donor money to purchase and install touch-screen computers and load them with HELP-produced interactive videos so students can virtually “explore” refineries, port facilities and all the other trips we make from the safety and convenience of school.
Students can view more than 50 “field trips” to a variety of local businesses and, if they see a job that intrigues them, use the touch-screen computer to “drill down” into the exact location/description of the job. They can communicate with the professional mentor either by text, Skype or phone. They can also apply to be on a future trip we take there, and become involved in onsite career mentoring, which attempts to match youth with the “job of their dreams.”
Recently, HELP was asked to work for the 36th Judicial District, which includes San Patricio, Bee and three other counties. We will be running trips to employers for students from these areas to join those we have been sending from Nueces County for the last three years.
Another new program for HELP is joining Workforce Solutions in placing teachers as observers in local businesses. As part of the Emerging Leadership Initiative (Project ELI), this program intends to improve classroom instruction through enhanced teacher experiences.
HELP has cooperated with numerous local entities, and is especially glad to begin a new relationship with Inspire Coastal Bend. Together, we can change the futures of local students and the economy!
For more information on Hammons Education Leadership Programs Inc., visit www.helphelp.us.