Exploring Opportunity

Hammons Education Leadership Programs introduces students to a variety of careers in order to HELP them find the job of their dreams.

By: Dr. Ridge Hammons

How many of us really get to explore all of the job opportunities around us before we settle on one? How many of us later wish we had known more about the job market before we settled? We all wish we had known more about the really cool jobs other people got that we never heard of.

For the last eight years, Hammons Education Leadership Programs (HELP) has been taking students to job sites, career fairs and work opportunities all around the Coastal Bend, to HELP them make good decisions about what they want to do with their lives. We show them careers they have never even heard of, much less had a chance to explore.

Just as importantly, we can keep them from spending too much time and money pursuing the wrong career. As a principal, it is heartbreaking to see teachers find out that they don’t belong in the classroom after five years and $25,000 in loans. One girl was on a nursing exploration that she had signed up for. Imagine our surprise when she recoiled with, “Ugh! Blood!? I hate blood!” When I informed her she might run into blood from time to time as a nurse, she replied, “But that’s not the kind of nurse I want to be! I want to be one of the ones that wear the long white dresses and write on clipboards!”

HELP takes at-risk and challenged youth on visits to numerous work sites around the city and the county to give them hands-on experience in jobs that might spark their interest. We 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?”

During HELP’s eight years of existence, we have taken over 3,000 different students on 250 trips to more than 100 local jobsites. HELP puts the kids where the action is! We have no lectures, no books and no classes – just the shared experience of a job done well by those who do it best, and who are willing to share their expertise.

HELP’s On Site Career Mentoring Program shows students exactly what it’s like to do a given occupation, and introduces them to any number of career paths, from welder, pipefitter and nurse to firefighter, police officer, auto mechanic and more.

Students get to see exactly what each career entails because HELP takes students into the refinery; into the police academy; into the fire station; into the training center at Del Mar; into the mechanic shop, etc., to talk to, observe, interact with and shadow the professionals who are working in the field.

The main objective of the program is to offer students multiple employment options and training. Students often have no real idea what they are capable of or even interested in – often because they have never experienced it.

We also install touch-screen computers loaded with videos and photos of our job-site visits in schools that we serve. These cutting-edge computers allow students to virtually experience most of the real-world educational trips we take and decide if they would like to join us.

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.

In addition to On Site Career Mentoring, HELP also directs other programs, such as Summer Partners in Education (SPICE), Second Chance, DARS and a number of school-based career clubs. In its Second Chance Program, HELP contracts with the Nueces County Juvenile Justice Department to work with incarcerated youth in order to counter the high rates of recidivism of juveniles on probation. In its DARS program, HELP works with the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services to assist high school students with disabilities.

The school-to-work career club, which sponsors video “visits” to local business entities and brings professional visitors to school, is available to some 8,000 students at five schools. 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 and port facilities from the safety and convenience of school.

The students can view more than 100 “field trips” to a variety of local businesses; if they see a job that intrigues them, they can communicate with the business by text, Skype or phone. They can also apply to be on a future trip we take there, and become involved in On Site Career Mentoring, which attempts to match youth with their “dream job.”

Recent successes

• HELP recently took a group of culinary and hospitality students to Airport Holiday Inn, where they found out all about feeding and caring for hundreds of guests’ welfare, nurture and feeding. We have been asked to share this with over 3,000 middle-schoolers at the Education Service Center.

• We have taken Juvenile Justice “Second Chance” students to the “burn room” at Del Mar College West. They got to experience exactly what it feels like to crawl through a room filled with fire and smoke looking for a lost baby.

• We have been asked to do an On Site Career Mentoring presentation at the Texas State Mentoring Conference, and invited to remain on the State Autism panel. In fact, HELP is the only ASL-authorized workforce agency south of San Antonio.

• HELP was recently visited by a Boston-based organization known as Career Hounds, who asked us to consider going to Massachusetts to do a presentation for the Board of Education on our programs.

• HELP has arranged to take Moody construction students on a group tour of Braselton Homes; this way, they can look at various homes in varying degrees of development. We are taking JJC to visit Craft Training Center and Ready Flo, King High School to the Aquarium and UT Ocean studies in Port A and other groups to other destinations.

HELP is all about giving our clients the opportunity to find the “job of their dreams” here in the Coastal Bend.

Ridge Hammons, Ph.D., is the executive director for HELP. For more information, call 361-815-6122 or email ridge.hammons@hotmail.com.

Photos courtesy of HELP