While some teens hang out playing games at the BREC Teen Center at Belfair Park, other young men and women spend time in the center’s upstairs meeting room, learning biblical morality while sharpening academic and business skills.
Now in its sixth week of an eight-week schedule, the Career Innovations of America program is designed for young people ages 16 to 22 and meets from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
“It is career oriented, but at the foundation of their career, it is going to be their faith,” said the Rev. Burnell Theron Williams Sr., founder and overseer of Churches In One Accord, a fellowship of 20 nondenominational, Pentecostal congregations and pastor of One Accord Church in Virginia Beach, Va.
Williams leads the program, which is conducted in partnership with BREC and the Kingdom Center church of Baker, one of the Churches in One Accord congregations.
“We open and close every session with prayer and all of our life skills teachings are coming from the Word of God,” he said.
For example, in a recent conflict resolution seminar, Williams contrasted the problem-solving examples of Moses, who used diplomacy, and Joshua, who deployed warfare.
“Whenever there is a conflict in your life you should always use diplomacy instead of warfare,” Williams said. “Diplomacy wins you a friend while war is 50-50 win or lose. You may lose and you will definitely not gain a friend.”
The program enrolled 30 students — called “business associates” — this summer, but with vacations 17 were present on Thursday for a session that began with them clapping and singing, “If you want to be somebody, if you want to go somewhere, you gotta wake up and pay attention.”
The associates were sharply dressed with the young men wearing white shirts and ties and the young women wearing black pants or skirts and white golf-style shirts or dress shirts.
Guest speaker Zakiya Wilson, LSU executive director of Research, Education and Mentoring office of STEM (Science, Technologies, Engineering and Math) Initiative, encouraged the young people to enroll in that program.
They also heard from several local businesses who are hiring and/or mentoring and from a representative from Southern University.
As part of their financial literacy lesson, the students applied for checking accounts with Neighbors Federal Credit Union, because, Williams said, they need to know how to keep financial records and learn how the cashless economy works. “You can’t just carry your cash in your pocket or purse,” he told them.
Keyshaun Johnson, 19, recently graduated from Northdale Magnet Academy, and plans to attend Baton Rouge Community College and major in law enforcement.
“I learned a lot of job skills and how to answer questions in an interview,” said Johnson, who also valued the faith-emphasis of the program. “It is important to give ourselves to God and be born again.”
Antionia Mitchell, 17, is attending Southeastern University this fall and plans to pursue a career in health care. “I feel blessed to have an opportunity like this.”
Williams said his organization is negotiating with 100 Black Men to continue this program, and BREC is willing to allow use of the building throughout the year for fall, winter and spring courses.