Camp Exec helps girls prepare for future

CHAMPAIGN – Veonia Gross wants to be a pediatrician or a psychologist, while her younger sister, Asia, is thinking about a career in modeling.

Asilah Patterson still is a middle school student at Edison, but she's in her second year of wanting to be a meteorologist.

Dominque Horton-Young, another Edison student, plans to become a veterinary technician.

Yanfen Li, a student at Central High School with the Gross sisters, says bio-medical engineering is her field.

The Champaign-Urbana teenagers have lofty job aspirations. Camp Exec – six classes conducted by the Green Meadows Council of the Girl Scouts – this summer taught them how to get those jobs.

From writing a resume to staying safe on a bus to what to wear to a job interview, some 20 young women learned the ropes from older women in the community who have done those things and succeeded.

For the last session tonight, the students will take a limousine ride and meet their mentors at Jim Gould's restaurant for dining etiquette lessons.

Summer speakers have included women in some two dozen occupations, including a doctor and a chef.

"The only complaint we've heard from the girls is that they want longer sessions and want to hear all the career speakers instead of half of them," said Tiffany Gholson-Johnson, director of the camp and a high school social worker.

Each of the Thursday afternoon classes has lasted three hours. During that time, there were four breakout talks on occupations, but each participant had to choose only two of the four to attend.

The program will be repeated next summer if the council gets a similar grant from the Champaign County United Way or money from another source.

Yanfen said she picked her career goal based on liking biology, a school counselor telling her she should be a doctor and her father recommending that she pursue engineering.

"I can't be a doctor and say, 'Oh yeah, you have this disease; I'm so sorry,'" she said. "I'd rather say, 'Oh, that disease – here's a cure.'"

During Camp Exec, Yanfen said she had learned "to take chances; to go for it. I was afraid of interviews, but here, they calmed my fears and now I know, 'OK, I can do it.'"

When Gholson-Johnson told the group about an ongoing program that offers a chance to win a laptop computer to those who read an inspirational book once a month and write a one-page report about each book, Veonia volunteered, saying, "I'll read every day."

"I love positive programs like this; they keep me out of trouble," Veonia said.

She confessed that she once had been expelled from school and been held back a year.

"Now, I want to be a positive role model for my sister," she said. "I ask Ms. Johnson to tell me about positive programs.

"In this one, I've learned about being an electrician, freelancing and banking; how to present myself at an interview and not to just wear jeans like teens do," Veonia said. "If anybody teases me about doing all this, I'll just say, 'I'm doing something good; how about you?'"

Vanessa Levan from Main Street Bank & Trust last week talked to the girls, who ranged from incoming eighth-graders to high school juniors.

"Women live longer and 90 percent of women will be responsible for their own finances," Levan said. "If you can save 5 dollars a day at 10 percent interest, in 10 years, you will have $30,727; in 50 years, you can have $2.6 million."

Tova Ghent, a University of Illinois police officer, passed out whistles for the young women to use in emergencies.

She talked about safety when walking, riding a bus, driving and surfing the Internet. Bus ride tips included sit near the driver or on an aisle, don't fall asleep and if you miss your stop, don't get off in an unfamiliar area.

Next, Ghent headed off with a handful of girls to tell them about law enforcement careers.

Alisa DeMarco, trained at the top-rated Culinary Institute of America in New York, and now the chef at The Great Impasta, told the girls that they need not go to culinary school if they could not afford it. She suggested apprenticeship programs with trained cooks and offered her restaurant kitchen for those seriously interested in a food career.

She said chefs she knew at top hotels and resorts earned between $120,000 and $150,000 a year.

Tanya Parker, who has started publishing the Habari Connection magazine for local blacks and Hispanics, told the young students that a $65,000 job in corporate America might not be fulfilling.

"There no time to go to the mall or take vacations," she said. "Investigate your interests."

Parker sold shoes and worked at a tax service office for three years while setting up her local magazine.

"This program is teaching us about jobs and getting a job, like life," said Melorene Grantham, another Central student. "It helps you more than school because it's interesting. Being around more people makes it not boring."

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