Jaron Finklea has a new perspective on his career after participating in a pilot program that links Parramore youth with professional summer jobs.

The Valencia College sophomore was majoring in business marketing but now wants to switch to computer technology after learning a new software program and getting real work experience in Orlando’s Economic Development department.

“The best part is that they’re not only teaching me but I’m getting hands-on training,” said Finklea, 23. “I’ve grown with the experience and been challenged every day.”

Finklea is one of 101 underprivileged youths chosen for a spot in the Parramore Kidz Zone Summer Youth Employment Program. The program targets youth ages 15-25 from Orlando’s District 5, which has the highest unemployment and poverty rates in the city.

The youth are building robots at the UCF Downtown campus, learning management skills at the Doubletree by Hilton, and working on legislative issues at U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s Orlando office. They’re employed at 20 different sites including the City of Orlando, local businesses and nonprofits.

“We don’t just give them a summer job but want to propel them forward in a career path that will provide an avenue to follow their dreams,” said Reginald Burroughs, executive director of the program. “These are kids who may not have good working role models to guide them toward a career.”

Burroughs, 24, can relate. He grew up as the oldest of three children raised by a single mother in Parramore and the Richmond Heights neighborhoods of District 5. His first job at 15 was working at Orlando’s Dr. James R. Smith Neighborhood Center pool as a lifeguard, which continued for four summers. He attended Morehouse College in Atlanta, worked on his MBA at Wake Forest Universtiy and has come full circle returning home to give back to his community.

“I tell them there’s more to your future than your surroundings,” Burroughs said. “We’re changing lives here.”

The program began with a two-day training May 27-28 with CareerSource Central Florida and Goodwill Industries of Central Florida, where the youths took a career aptitude test and received training on writing resumes and job applications and tips on professional office behavior.

The youth were given vouchers from Goodwill to buy work clothes and bus tickets from Lynx to get to work.

The 10-week jobs run from June 5 through Aug. 11. The interns are required to save 10 percent of their earnings but many are taking advantage of Individual Development Accounts, which match every dollar saved with another dollar that can be used for their education.

Vincent Cameron, 17, said he is saving every paycheck to use at Edward Waters College in the fall, where he plans to become a firefighter and emergency medical technician. Cameron works at the Orlando Fire Department and gets to answer calls with the crew every Friday.

“This has been a great opportunity to give back to the community, while giving these youths a chance to touch, see and feel what it means to be a firefighter,” said Orlando Fire Chief Roderick Williams.

The pilot program is paid for through a $200,000 grant from the Once of Prevention Fund at Florida Children’s Initiatives, along with grants from Heart of Florida United Way and Bank of America. Burroughs said he hopes to continue the program year-round.

The professional internships are some of the 888 youths employed by the City of Orlando through multiple programs. The youths work as office clerks, assistant athletic coaches, childcare workers, after school and summer camp counselors, and tutors of younger children.

“This is a powerful initiative that’s keeping youth off the streets and exposing them to career opportunities,” said Commissioner Regina Hill, who represents District 5.

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