By Margaret Hunt
Students Working to Achieve Greatness (SWAG) is a program started by the Village of Wellington in 2017 through the Community Services Department, which provides programs and services to residents of Wellington with the goal of enhancing the quality of life, especially to underserved families.
“Exposure is key to knowledge and understanding the world around you,” Community Services Director Paulette Edwards said. “The Village of Wellington’s SWAG program is designed to provide a meaningful work experience to local high school students who otherwise would not have such an opportunity.”
The program serves high school students in Wellington by teaching them career readiness skills and helping them network with successful people of color within the community. Through the years, approximately 50 students have received paid summer internships through the program. This year, 17 students took part in summer internships. This includes students who were unable to participate in the SWAG program last year due to the pandemic. They got the opportunity to participate this year.
This summer’s program participants included Kyle Balfour, Mariangel Barboza, Erika Beckard, Angela Page Camacho, Stacey Domingue, Valentina Ezcurra, Melik Frederick, McKenzie Henry, Margaret Hunt, Jordan Jackson, Jovenah Kayla, Victoria Loredan, Wyaussi Morin, Morgann Rhule, Leylani Sime, David Usher and Hermione Williams. They were saluted at a SWAG program graduation ceremony held on Tuesday, Aug. 3.
From the internships, the students learned how to work in numerous settings, from working with children to jobs in corporate offices. The students have worked at locations such as Premier Family Health, the Art Cellar/Kidz Art, Commissioner Melissa McKinlay’s office, the Boys & Girls Club, Health Solutions Insurance, the Vinceremos Therapeutic Riding Center, the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s office, Wellington All Stars and the Town-Crier/Wellington The Magazine. Some of the students even received internships in their desired career fields.
Through SWAG, the students have learned proper work etiquette, the importance of being on time, how to introduce themselves and other career skills. The Crowned Pearls of Wellington were also able to give the students career advice from their personal experiences working in different fields. The program helped prepare each student to be successful when entering the workforce.
The students have been aided along the way by program coordinators Ian Williams and Gus Ponce from the Community Services Department. They played a key role, accompanying students to their job interviews, helping them with paperwork and answering their questions.
“My favorite thing about working with the youth is seeing the growth of the students,” Ponce said. “I come from a coaching background, and just seeing the development of these students over the years, whether it’s on the basketball court, the classroom, or as a person, is great to see.”
During the program, the students attended weekly meetings at the Wellington Community Center, where they were given an opportunity to discuss their new work experiences. They got feedback from their mentors and each other. They could learn from each other’s mistakes and the things that they did correctly. The program also offered a way for the students to connect with their peers during the pandemic.
“I’m thankful for partnering up with SWAG and being able to spend my summer at Vinceremos. It was amazing to see how much bonds mean to people. The bonds I’ve created with the volunteers, campers and horses were some that I will never forget and will always cherish,” SWAG student Valentina Ezcurra said.
SWAG has given the students tools to take with them throughout their professional lives. They will remember to give a strong handshake and make good eye contact, the type of clothes to wear to a job interview, and to always arrive early to an event. Through SWAG, the Village of Wellington gave the students a head start in key areas, setting them on a path toward success in the workplace.