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State Program Offers Great Promise to Valdosta City Youth

September 7, 2016
This article appeared in the September 2016 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.
Valdosta City Manager Larry Hanson, Councilmember Vivian Miller-Cody and eight Valdosta High School juniors of the Great Promise Partnership Program.
While it’s normal for high school students to get jobs working in fast food or in retail stores to earn extra money while in school, very few high schoolers have jobs that could lead to stable, long-lasting careers in public service.

 

The Great Promise Partnership (GPP) is giving eight Valdosta High School (VHS) juniors and seniors in Valdosta the career training experience of a lifetime by offering these young people up to two years of em­ployment in city government. The city of Valdosta is one of the first municipalities in Georgia to partici­pate in the statewide initiative, giving these teens real-world experience and job training all while they earn a paycheck.
 
“What surprised me the most about working in the Engineering Department [at the city] is that it involves an extreme amount of math,” said VHS Senior Gary Whitfield. Lucky for Gary, he enjoys math; but his ex­periences are helping him to realize what he needs to improve on in order to obtain his future career goals. “I understand more clearly now that the things I’m learning in the classroom really do apply to my future,” he said. “It’s all starting to make sense.”
 
Gary’s only regret is that the program wasn’t avail­able to him when he was a junior. While juniors in the GPP program can gain up to two years of experience, Gary will only be at the city for one year. Even so, he said it is making a huge impact on his life.
 
“I know I want to pursue a career in the civil engi­neering field,” Gary said. “Not only can I learn what I need to know about the field while I’m working here this year, I’m also surrounded by adult mentors who really want to help me succeed. It’s pretty amazing.”
 
During July, the eight students worked full-time to train and become acclimated with their assigned city departments. Each were assigned to a mentor and a supervisor and, in addition to the Engineering Depart­ment, are working in the Planning and Zoning, Inspec­tions, Permits, Finance, Main Street, Public Informa­tion, Human Resources, Neighborhood Development and Police Departments. The youth interns have since returned to their classrooms at VHS and are continu­ing to work part-time around their school schedules during the fall and spring semesters.
 
The GPP program is beneficial not only for the student interns but also for the city’s service depart­ments, which are gaining the helpful assistance in their day-to-day operations while still recovering from tough economic times. The internships, funded through Valdosta’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, are positively impacting the city’s mission without negatively impacting the city’s budget.
 
“We’re proud that the city of Valdosta and Valdosta High School were selected as community participants in 2013 as one of the first municipalities to utilize this program in the state of Georgia,” said City Manager Larry Hanson.
 
Mayor John Gayle sees the program as a promising tool for both the city and its youth. “We look forward to fulfilling the GPP’s long-standing goal of keeping youth in school, building a bridge to success and creating a skilled workforce for the community—a goal that truly has long-lasting community benefits,” Gayle said.
 

Q&A With Mike Beatty

President & CEO, Great Promise Partnership, Inc.

 
What impact does Valdosta’s participation have on a state and local level?
While we have state, city and county governments hiring our youth throughout the state, Val­dosta is setting the example that will challenge all parts of their community and other cities to engage in the lives of these great youth. The lo­cal business community will see the great results and be open to expanding their participation. The community will see their leaders setting the pace for positive change.
 
How important is it that Valdosta city officials are undertaking this initiative in their city?
This is the type of public policy that engages all sectors of a community. It puts city hall into a true partnership with the school system, the business community and sends a clear message to our citi­zens that we all need to come together to prepare our youth for a productive future.
 
What’s the biggest challenge to starting this in a city?
Once a decision and commitment is made, the rest are details that we have ironed out over the past 5 years. This program can be up and running in a very short amount of time. Working together we can turn any obstacles into opportunities.
 
What do you think is the greatest benefit a city will see if they set-up a similar program?
This is a win-win-win for all. Our students gradu­ate from high school with real world job expe­rience and hope for their futures. Schools lower their dropout rates and become partners with business and government. Employers gain a pipe­line of profitable, motivated and trained employ­ees. Cities help break the cycle of poverty for these youth while creating a true “climate of suc­cess” for families and business.