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SWEP gives students experience in working world

For most students, summer brings a break from studies with time to relax and have fun. But instead of all that down time, 87 students participated in the Student Work Experience Program (SWEP) and got an inside look at the adult working world.

The program is sponsored by the Center for Student Success and Services department and places students in a plethora of positions in a variety of Tribal departments.

Founded in 2005, the goal of the program is to prepare students for the workforce by instilling a strong work ethic and a familiarity with employment opportunities within the Tribe.

“We want them to get true experience from the work and grow professionally,” said Tribal Professional Development Supervisor Rembrandt Peralta, who runs the program. “We also want them to learn to understand time management and responsibility, but most importantly to have fun.”

SWEP participants Alani Marks and Valholly Frank hold the gators they show at the Billie Swamp Safari Critter Show on July 16. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

Students from the age of 14 to 24 are eligible for the eight-week program, which runs from June 10 to Aug. 2. Students were placed in 14 departments including culture, recreation, the Boys & Girls Clubs, preschool, Billie Swamp Safari, Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, cattle and range, Fire Rescue and others.

Chandler Demayo spent his second year working at Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, which he found a little easier this year. He mostly worked alongside the professionals in the conservation lab to check on how artifacts are aging.

“I saw Osceola’s sash the other day,” said Demayo, 18. “It’s in good shape for how old it is. It’s made of finger woven yarn with green and black beads. He wore it as a belt.”

His sister Clarice Demayo also worked at the museum where she gave tours, organized items in the library and educated non-Tribal youth and adults.

“The best part is that we get to learn about our culture,” said Clarice, 15.

Since Valholly Frank was a little kid, she wanted to see what happens behind the scenes at Billie Swamp Safari. She got her wish through SWEP; she spent the summer working at the popular tourist attraction’s Critter Show where she fed the animals, helped backstage and brought the critters out to the audience during the shows.

SWEP participant Ronnie Jimmie works with some beads in the Immokalee culture department. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

The Sagemont School junior learned the working world isn’t much different than high school. Change doesn’t come easily at either place, but she enjoyed the experience.

“I like the people who work here and get to make new relationships every day,” said Valholly, 16. “I wake up early, go to work and get paid at the end of the week. Now if I want something, I don’t have to ask for it. I can buy it myself.”

Alani Marks also spent the summer working at Billie Swamp Safari.

“I like working with the animals, I get to feed them and help out during the shows,” said Alani, 16. “If I didn’t work here, I’d just be bored at home.”

Teijo Smith, 16, also worked at Billie Swamp Safari and thinks every student should participate in SWEP.

“It’s fun and it keeps you active,” he said.

Avery Bowers worked in the collections area at Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki and learned more than he expected while he helped take inventory of photos and books.

“I like looking at the old photos and I found family members in some of them,” said Avery, 14. “Sometimes it’s hard to find the books and check them off the list, but I like looking through them to see what’s inside.”

Rosalinda Jimmie learns to sew as a SWEP participant in the Immokalee culture department. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

Tiger Youngman’s family has cattle at their Lake Placid home, so it was a natural for him to work at cattle and range. It was his second year at SWEP and said the hardest part of the job is the heat, which reached up to 102 degrees at times. Last month he helped cattle owners ship their calves.

“I love cattle, so I figured this was the best thing to do,” said Tiger, 16. “I’ve learned what to do and what not to do. The best thing is hearing the old cowboy stories from the guys.”

A few students gravitated to Immokalee’s culture department where they learned to sew, helped cook and build tables and benches for the new culture village.

Cattle and range SWEP participant Tiger Youngman helps move calves from the scale to the next holding pen at the Brighton marsh pens during calf shipping July 12. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

Ronnie Jimmie said when it was time to choose a department, culture caught his eye. He knew a little about beading, but got a lot more experience over the summer.

“I like the people here,” said Ronnie, 14. “I’ve learned how to make more complicated beadwork necklaces. If I didn’t join SWEP, I’d be sitting at home. This is more entertaining and it keeps me active.”

Culture instructor Josh Garza was glad to have the summer help.

“Ronnie helped build tables and benches and learned to use a circular saw and a drill,” Garza said. “It was a lot of work but it was fun to be a part of teaching them and passing it down.”

Rosalinda Jimmie, 14, learned to sew and liked the learning process. Carlise Bermudez worked in the culture department during spring break and came back for the summer.

“I just like to sew,” said Carlise, 15. “I like to learn more culture and be more involved. I enjoy it here and it kept me busy all summer.”

Carlise Bermudez shows a patchwork headband she made as a SWEP participant in the Immokalee culture department July 21. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
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