110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
posted May 5, 2008 - 3:05:09pm
Teenage laughter and the smell of new paint drifted down the hall of the Chisholm Community Center in Southwest DeLand.
Inside a room, a dozen young people worked. They worked for free. They didn't have to be there.
"We're trying to change our lives," Kaynna Padoani, age 17, said.
"We go to school here," Christina Green, age 18, explained.
Padoani and Green are students of a program called TechBridge, and the room in Chisholm Center is their portal to a better future.
Earlier this year, the students volunteered many hours to spruce up their space in the Chisholm Center.
Techbridge program coordinator Rob Davidson said the room's transformation was a life lesson, as are many of the lessons in the nontraditional classroom.
"They want to have some pride in their classroom," Davidson said. "They didn't have to be here. I said there wasn't school this week, and 10, 11, 12 students all showed up to work. And it's not easy work."
He asked the room, "Who's space is this?"
Assorted teenagers responded, "This is our space."
Slapping a coat of paint on a wall doesn't teach a person how to multiply or identify the subject of a sentence. It does teach, however, the power of an individual to be proud of himself or herself, and his or her environment.
In other words: If you find things are not the way you want them to be, you can work hard and make the change.
"The room was a mess," said Marquis Douglas, 18.
Douglas said the TechBridge program helped keep him out of trouble. It was a good program, and it was worth having a good space, he said.
"It's a part of us," said Camay Jefferies, 16.
Just as these teens symbolically took the "mess" of the room and transformed it into something better, when class was back in session, they would be working on a similar transition for themselves.
Davidson said TechBridge teaches employability, high-school-diploma preparation, computer training and job-placement assistance.
"We want to get all of the kids in post-secondary positions, employment, vocational training or military," Davidson said.
Successful program completion is above 75 percent, with more than 30 percent of the TechBridge students earning their GEDs, and 25 percent of them earning a new computer.
Computers and money are among the perks TechBridge offers to young people if they complete skill sets.
"It's just like earning a paycheck," Davidson said.
The teens work through an intense checklist of requirements for different elements of the program. They get paid when they turn in their "skill invoices."
"They can earn $250 for earning a GED," Davidson said.
If they stick through the entire program, the students get hands-on technical training: They get to build a computer, and keep it.
"To finish everything can take six months," Davidson said. "A lot of them just can't."
Students said Denise DiMuro, the TechBridge career coach, is a very important person in their lives.
"She's a second mother," said Shelby Bellatonio, 16.
Caring and devotion go a long way with the students, who are between the ages of 16 and 21, and are all not in high school.
Without the cooperation of the City of DeLand, owner of Chisholm Community Center, the TechBridge program would not be possible, Davidson said.
Chisholm Center is at 520 S. Clara Ave. on the edge of the Spring Hill community. To Davidson, that's prime real estate.
"We need to be where the kids are," he said. "We need to be accessible."
TechBridge is funded by the Workforce Development Board Center for Business Excellence for Volusia and Flagler Counties.
For more information about the DeLand campus, call (386) 547-8561. For more information about the Deltona campus, in the Harris Saxon Community Center, call (386) 490-6773.
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