City internship program focused on developing diverse, talented workforce

July 20th, 2017

By Kevin Kilbane | The News-Sentinel

Pruning trees this summer is helping Juan Gonzalez become a nurse. Helping young children make dream catchers is aiding Thamay Paw toward her dream of becoming a teacher or coordinator of a children's program.

Gonzalez, 19, and Paw, 20, are two of the 15 young people from Fort Wayne working this summer with the Fort Wayne Parks & Recreation Department through the Mayor's Summer Internship Employment Outreach Program.

"If it wasn't for this, I don't know if I could continue going to (University of) Saint Francis," Gonzalez said of his hourly earnings and opportunity to earn a $2,500 scholarship.

The internship program is designed to help the city of Fort Wayne and community recruit a more diverse workforce, to retain top talent in Fort Wayne and to assist local residents in building a better future for themselves and their families through education, said Mitch Sheppard, parks department deputy director for community outreach, Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory and Foellinger Outdoor Theatre.


The program reaches out specifically to Fort Wayne's immigrant, refugee and minority communities, Sheppard said. To participate, young people must be at least age 18. To be eligible for the scholarship, they also must be enrolled in a college or trade school and must complete at least eight weeks of work this summer as an intern.

Many of the students are the first person in their immediate family to attend college, Sheppard said.

The parks department pays the interns' hourly wage of $11 per hour, she said. The scholarship money comes from the city's Legacy Fund and is managed by the local Questa Education Foundation.

Three young adults participated in the program last year, Sheppard said.

This year, about 30 young people applied and 16 were accepted, said Chantell Davis, manager of the parks department's neighborhood programs and summer playground programs. One student dropped out a short time after the program began in early June.

Interns work at the parks department in forestry, youth recreation, summer playground program, pools and preschool youth sports, Sheppard said. Some of their jobs will end by July 31, but others will continue into early August.

The interns also attend training sessions in resume writing, personality profile, conflict management, professional development and networking, Sheppard said.


During an organizational meeting in May, interns had a chance to apply for the summer job they wanted from internship openings available within the parks department, she said.

"The tree division looked fun," Gonzalez said. "I am playing soccer for Saint Francis. I figure this will help get me in shape."

He was right: He's lost 15 pounds in about six weeks of work.

He has enjoyed the work and his co-workers, he said, particularly when they "come to the rescue" when a tree falls in a park or on a street and needs to be removed quickly.

As with Gonzalez, other interns said their pay and chance for scholarship money will help greatly with college expenses.

His earnings will pay for all of his books for fall semester, said Ruben Dezaldo, 24, who is studying information technology at Ivy Tech Community College-Northeast. He is interning this summer as part of the staff at Jennings Recreation Center, 1330 McCulloch St.

Karina Vazquez, 19, who works as a pool attendant at McMillen Park Pool, said the pay and scholarship are really helpful for her. Vazquez, who hopes to become a pediatrician, will be a junior studying biochemistry this fall at Manchester University in North Manchester.

Her family moved here from Mexico when she was in sixth grade, but she didn't go through the legal immigration process, she said. She can stay here now under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, but she isn't eligible for any federal college financial aid.


Students also are learning skills that will help them in their future life and careers, they said.

Paw, who is studying education at University of Saint Francis (USF), chose to work with children at Jennings Recreation Center so she can learn how to communicate more effectively with her younger siblings, who range from elementary school-age to high school teen.

Paw, whose family came to Atlanta in 2006 from a refugee camp on the Thai-Myanmar border, said she has to perform many parental responsibilities for her siblings because her parents don't speak English. The family has lived in Fort Wayne since about 2009.

Through crafts and activities, she also wants to help children at Jennings Center to stay sharp for their return to school in mid-August and to avoid risky or dangerous behavior.

Dezaldo, Paw, Vazquez and Desmon Davis, 20, who works with children in the summer playground program at Memorial Park, all said their internship has taught them a lot about how to work with different types of people.

Davis, for example, who is majoring in physical education and pursuing a minor in coaching at Trine University in Angola, has learned how to maintain the attention of one group of children while getting the attention of another group.

For Davis, who came to park programs at Memorial Park as a boy and who has worked there as a volunteer and staff member for about five years, it has been rewarding "just watching the kids grow over the years, and even over the summer."

The interns also talked about staying in Fort Wayne after college.

"My main goal is to work at a local hospital," Vazquez said. "I want to make sure the Latino community gets the care they need."

"Seeing how the city is helping me, I want to help back," Gonzalez said.