“When I was a little boy my grandmother would say, ‘An idle mind is the devil’s workshop.’ What we try to do is provide a work setting for these kids,” Billy Davis, executive director for A Positive Step for Monroe County painted the picture as we headed into the gym at Glynn Archer Elementary School on White Street.
Inside the gym, it was anything but idle. A pair of 80s throwback RayBan sunglasses sat on a TV stand, and about 12 children were breaking it down to the beats of Michael Jackson playing 2011 style – via the Wii.
Beat It, Beat It, Beat It, Beat It
No One Wants to be Defeated
Showin’ How Funky Strong is Your Fight and
It Doesn’t Matter Who’s Wrong Or Right
Activity coordinator Danielle Legnaioli is in the midst of the music mayhem and said with pride, “They’re definitely a handful!”
But she does have a little help for summer.
Davis saw a two-fold need; the first of those to provide Key West High school students with summer jobs, and secondly was to staff the Boys and Girls Club with trained assistants.
“These guys have been great,” exclaimed Dombroski. “They help with lunches and clean up, and it gives the extra manpower during the summer which is important to have. What we do is give the kids somewhere to go that’s safe, where they can have a positive experience and their parents can go to work every day and not worry about what there kids are doing. We challenge them and stimulate them with activities.”
The Boys and Girls Club serves 200 elementary and middle school students from the day after school lets out until the day before the first day of school.
There are typically 80 children are at the door each day, and there are only six full time staff members with a slim budget to pay for their hours logged on their time sheets.
South Florida Workforce Development previously provided employees, but due to budget cuts, that wasn’t going to be part of this summer’s equation.
So, when Davis found out in mid-May his colleague needed staff, he knew exactly the employee pool from which to pull – high school students.
“I thought my summer was going to be more (athletic) training, laying back and relaxing. Then my mom came to me and told me, ‘Billy has something going on,’ and she wanted me to check it out,” supplied She’Quan Thomas.
Thomas is one of 12 Key West High kids participating in Project Idle Hands. They’re employed, earning a paycheck, assisting Dombroski and Legnaioli and realizing their career potentials earning $8 an hour.
“I put in about 25 hours a week for three weeks,” said Tatayana Fisher, who plans on enrolling at Florida State University post graduation to major in pre-med. “I know I like taking them to the different places on the island and involving them in the activities. It feels really good, and I’ll be able to use the money I earn to pay for school stuff.”
Jamica Mack relayed the summer job opportunity gave her a sense of responsibility, that she has a natural ability to interact with kids and when she returns to campus this fall, she’ll focus on sports and cooking.
“When these kids got their first paychecks, there is nothing in this world as fulfilling as the expression on those kids faces when they open up those envelopes and look at their monies.” Billy Davis, executive director A Positive Step for Monroe County
“I understand what they want and why they get ‘all crazy!’ And, I learned patience, too,” she said reflecting with a chuckle as she clenched her paycheck.
Summer activities included field trips to Boondocks for mini-golf and the Key West Aquarium; great outdoor activities like capture the flag, kickball, hitting the beach and of course, keeping the spirit of the King of Pop well and alive.
Most importantly, Davis and Dombroski’s hit their goal to stimulate their many young minds.
“We wanted these kids to learn at an early age to work, earn a paycheck, pay their taxes… just to be good productive members of the community,” Davis offered.
He didn’t, however, just send these impressionable ladies and gents into the working world without training.
Jamica, Tatyanna and Sha-Quan all completed two weeks of classroom training before hitting the floor, kickball court, beach and underground world of Wii entertainment! Business community leaders like Centennial Bank’s Todd German coached them on financial responsibility. They were also prepped on how to meet employer expectations and tackled the pressing issues surrounding substance abuse.
“This is good for the community,” Davis reiterated. “One kid, right in this gym, said to me, ‘Bill? I can do a flip?’ I asked him not to. He’d hurt himself!”
KWHS incoming Junior Tatyanna Fisher opens the envelope to her paycheck, a gig working with the Boys and Girls Club through Florida Workforce Development and A Positive Step of Monroe County. Jamica Mack, Tatyanna Fisher and She-Quan Thomas, all incoming KWHS juniors, grin over their paychecks while Dombroski (seated) and Davis praise them for their involvement.
Through the Police Athletic League, Sunrise Rotary of the Conch Republic, law enforcement seizure money, and Les Steele of PoCo Pelo Salon, Davis was able to raise $9,500 to write these paychecks.