Program teaches teens skills needed to succeed After the six weeks end, the Camden youths are put to work.

Posted: May 04, 2003

Nakia Hagamin, 17, knows exactly what she wants to do in the future.

A senior at Dr. Charles Brimm Medical Arts High School in Camden, Hagamin plans to attend Rutgers University in New Brunswick and major in pharmacy.

Her hopes were not always so clear.

Several weeks ago, she completed courses at the Youth Employment Center at the Boys and Girls Club of Camden County, in the city of Camden.

During the six-week training session, Hagamin was able to sharpen her computer skills, learn about job opportunities, and improve her work habits. While honing her skills, Hagamin said, the club "became my second home."

She is now employed as a youth staff worker at the Boys and Girls Club, a sprawling building with an oversized gym and an Olympic-size pool on Park Boulevard in Camden. With her new skills, Hagamin works as a mentor for younger students, assisting them with homework and developing social skills.

"I'm like a big sister to a lot of the kids," she said. "I be real with them, and they accept me as family."

The Youth Employment Center was funded by a $25,000 grant from Fleet/New Jersey, which has helped other Boys and Girls Clubs in the state establish employment centers.

Milford Liss, president and chief executive officer of the club, said the employment center had added a needed new dimension to the club, which caters to those 14 to 18 years old.

"The need is tremendous. The response has been phenomenal," Liss said.

The new one-year pilot program will train 80 young people during six-week training sessions.

Liss said working with the young people had been a challenge because many lack social skills and have never had the opportunity to build trust with others.

"They're developing an identity with the club. It's their club," Liss said. "Youngsters put themselves out there and took the risk."

Once the teens complete the employment-training program, they are offered jobs at the club that include working as support staff, helping with registration, operating a snack bar at the facility, or working in the game room.

Liss said job opportunities with local businesses are also being explored. But for now, he said, it is important for those fresh out of the program to feel comfortable with the new skills.

"I don't want to put them out there to fail," he said.

Jemel Williams, 15, is determined to succeed. A freshman at Camden High School who lives in downtown Camden, Williams has attended the employment center for four weeks. An aspiring musician who plays the tuba, Williams said he planned to attend Jacksonville State University in Florida and pursue a career in the performing arts.

The program "helped me to establish short-term goals and long-term goals," Williams said.

Contact Rosalee Polk Rhodes at 856-779-3237 or rrhodes@phillynews.com.

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