Direction and structure for the youth of any community remains crucial, and the vibrant community of Atlantic City is no different. Leaders In Training is an eight week, workplace development summer program for youth between the ages of 14-20 in the Atlantic City area. Ocean Casino Resort saw the impact this organization has on the community and has made them one of the recipients of this year’s Ocean Cares initiative. Taking their partnership one step further, Ocean Casino Resort has brought some of the Leaders In Training volunteers on as full-time employees, bringing that community activism and pride in-house.
I spoke with Shermaine Gunter-Gary, Director of Leaders In Training, about the challenges that the organization has faced this year, some of their biggest accomplishments, and the impact Ocean Casino Resort has had on the organization.
Michael Cook: What are you finding to be some of the biggest challenges the youth in the community currently face today?
Shermaine Gunter-Gary: The youth in our community have been living in a small microcosm of their own community, with no clue what transpires outside their immediate environment. When something happens in the world, they don’t see the significance of the effects on their world. They have extreme self-esteem issues and rely on their peers for both advice and information. They have a fear of rejection and don’t dare to dream.
Those that have slipped behind educationally simply glide through, without even thinking about catching up or doing additional learning to achieve their goals. Many are being raised by their grandparents or have a parent who must work two jobs to make ends meet, thus not yielding much parental guidance. Value of objects outweighs value on living beings, life skills training has been non-existent and they tend to believe anything told to them through social media
MC: What are some of the biggest success stories you accomplished through Leaders In Training?
SGG: The rewards of working with Leaders In Training is simply being able to see the youth take steps forward in both their maturity and knowledge of themselves. We have several youth who were on the verge of losing their jobs last summer. As a result of job coaching, mediation and family intervention, they have stabilized to not only be good employees, but continue to lead by example in their prospective teams.
One of the youth is an assistant to our Administrative Assistant. As a result of Leaders Through Training, he is working above capacity and is learning the value of a good work ethic. Throughout the program, we work on the attitudes, tardiness and absenteeism of all the youth. These numbers have increased by a 40% improvement since the program began at the end of January.
MC: How has having Ocean Casino Resort as a partner been a positive force in your organization?
SGG: Ocean Casino Resort has not only committed to assist with financial support, but has offered direct volunteer opportunities with us. We have two of our LIT members who applied to Ocean and have since been hired. Ultimately, this is our goal; for these members to get a chance to gain full-time employment.
MC: What challenges has Leaders In Training faced during the past year?
SGG: Our program definitely faced several obstacles. Financial resources remain a challenge as the amount of donations, grants and sponsorships received is dependent on how many youth we are able to reach. Our youth in the program face an enormous amount of issues; it would be beneficial if there were more resources available to give mental health assistance to our clients. Additionally, space to provide our training workshops is remains a constant challenge.