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Summer work program offers youth real-world experience

SWEP03Thirty-nine teenagers are spending the summer working for the Tribe to gain real-world work experience thanks to the Education Department’s Summer Work Experience Program (SWEP).

Through the program, which runs from June 15 to Aug. 7, SWEP participants wake up, clock in and work in departments as diverse as Cattle and Range, Recreation, Culture and Fire Rescue. The program, which pays an hourly wage, began in 2005 for high school students.

Participant Raevin Frank, 18, said her curiosity about Fire Rescue led her to choose that department.

“I thought it would be something I could use later in life,” said Raevin, who will start her senior year at NSU University School in Davie this fall. “It’s active; you are always busy and I get to see behind the scenes. I’m happy to be here. I really enjoy it.”

Although she doesn’t respond to calls with the Fire Rescue crew, Raevin trains with them daily and became certified in CPR and automated external defibrillator (AED). She is also learning useful skills such as performing the Heimlich maneuver, wrapping bandages, using fire hoses and tying secure knots. Along with members of the department, she attended a class on incident command and the art of reading smoke at the City of Hollywood Fire Rescue Department.

“We want her to learn something that will be useful at home, like CPR and other lifesaving skills,” said Lt. Robert Vega. “You can’t put a price on that. And she got to see what we do on a regular basis.”

During a rope-tying drill, Raevin learned and mastered the complicated figure-eight knot.

“I’ve been teaching guys to do this for a long time and she got it on the second try,” said battalion shift commander Capt. David Lugo. “It takes most people a long time to learn it.”

“That’s one of the toughest knots; everybody has problems learning it,” added district chief Doug LeValley.

In Immokalee, students Jada Holdiness, 14, and Jillian Rodriguez, 14, are valuable aides for library assistant Dolores Lopez.

About 30 to 50 children enter the library daily for the summer reading program, and the SWEP students read to them and later ask questions about the books. They also find online activities and interact with the community.

“They are good with the kids,” Lopez said. “Some kids make fun of others and they (Jada and Jillian) are real good about picking up the kids’ spirits; being close in age helps. They are very responsible girls.”

Brent Frank, 16, chose the Hollywood Preschool for the second year. He has experience babysitting young cousins and knows what to expect from toddlers. At the preschool, he tends to the needs of the active 2-year-old class and keeps them busy.

“I wanted to have a little extra cash and I like to keep myself busy,” said the Hollywood Hills High School junior. “Making sure they aren’t upset is the hard part because when they are upset, there is no turning back. I wanted more experience with children so I will know what to expect when I have some of my own.”

Raini Cypress, 16, is using SWEP to earn some income over the summer while padding her resume for college applications.

The junior at American Heritage School is working in Big Cypress Councilman Cicero Osceola’s office.

“Everyone said to do it because you get to know things in the community,” Raini said. “I also really need to learn how to properly communicate with people. You need to be able to communicate with others to be able to function in society.”

Her responsibilities include answering phones, taking notes during meetings and voicing her opinions to Councilman Osceola.

Raini said working in the office has already helped her gain more confidence. The things she has learned and the connections she has made are worth any social anxiety she may have felt, she said.

She looks forward to participating in SWEP again next year and encourages her peers to take advantage of all the Tribe offers youth.

“You need to recognize how lucky you are,” Raini said. “No one can take your education away from you. Even if you don’t have the best grades, if you tried your hardest, you shouldn’t be upset.”

Jaden Bankston, 15, and Satie Rico, 14, decided to work at the Hollywood Recreation Department camp because they thought it would be fun to play with younger children.

“Seeing how kids are in a big group and without their parents was interesting,” said Satie, an incoming ninth-grader at American Heritage School in Plantation. “They are definitely different and don’t listen as much. But I like SWEP and will do it again next year. It’s a great experience.”

“I learned how to communicate with them and had a fun time,” added Jaden, an incoming ninth-grader at NSU University School in Davie. “But it’s hard when it’s time to sit down or change activities; they want to keep playing and don’t always listen.”

Despite the challenges, Jaden said he loves having fun with the kids and joining them on field trips.

Recreation site manager Joe Collins appreciates the students and makes sure they receive varied experiences over the summer, including camp and the community pool.

“The program gives them the opportunity to see what we do,” Collins said. “They are a good group; they always check in with me and the kids like them.”

Supervisors keep in touch with the Education Department to document the students’ progress. At the end of the program, they will be evaluated. The records will be kept in the Tribe’s Human Resources Department.

“The SWEP program is designed to provide participants with an opportunity to develop constructive work habits, a positive attitude and valuable job skills necessary to enter the workplace prepared and qualified to be a productive employee,” said Brenda Gillis, Education Department assistant director.

Brent said he is happy for the opportunity to earn those skills.

“Getting up early and coming to work prepares you for the real world,” he said. “Not everything has to be relaxing; you have to keep active to maintain a healthy life.”

Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at