Sleeping in this summer is not in the cards for 15-year-old Dank Campbell Jr. Instead, the rising sophomore at SILSA heads to his summer internship at City of Asheville Meter Services at 8 a.m., same as the other workers. He knocks off in time for 4:45 p.m. football practice at Asheville High.
“The schedule’s been pretty tough,” Dank says, grinning nonetheless.
Still, he asked for it, competing for the opportunity to participate in the City of Asheville Youth Leadership Academy (CAYLA) this summer. He is one of 25 CAYLA students working not only at the City of Asheville but also at businesses ranging from Moog Music to CarePartners to Asheville GreenWorks.
Meter Services Supervisor Brandon Buckner keeps Dank busy: “He’s been with the meter technicians, the tap crews. He’s worked some with the backflow division.”
“That one was pretty interesting,” Dank said. The backflow division is responsible for making sure water is protected from any contaminants, that the water going in the right direction, not flowing back.
How does this experience line up with Dank’s goal of attending Wake Forest University to become an anesthesiologist? “A friend told me the CAYLA program helped him prepare for college and the real world,” Dank said.
CAYLA students earn $8 an hour. Each student will also receive a $2,000 scholarship upon successful completion of the program to support their goal of attending college. The program is supported in part by Buncombe County.
Rising SILSA 10th-grader Nadia May’s CAYLA placement at JB Media Group lines up more directly with her planned career path. She wants to go to Appalachian State to study business management and marketing. Her work at JB Media has focused on web search engine optimization (SEO) and social media content delivery.
“Before JB Media I had an idea of what I wanted to do,” she said. “But being here has made me want to push more into the marketing field.”
Nadia would be the first one in her family to go to college. “I want to make my family proud,” she said.
Most of the CAYLA interns are the first in their families to go to college, said Erika Germer, CAYLA program coordinator. “These are go-getters,” Germer said. “We’re definitely looking for students who are going to be future leaders for our community.”
More than 140 local students have participated in CAYLA since its inception in 2007. At least 85 percent of CAYLA alumni are still attending college or have completed their degree.
The program combines summer internships with mentoring, team building, college application preparation assistance and career exploration opportunities. It includes a community service component during the school year.
The City pays the interns their summer wages. The students work four days a week. “On Fridays they come together as a class for leadership development,” said Germer.
Along the way CAYLA interns build networks that help them as they come back and join our community as adults.
Recently graduated UNC Asheville accounting major Giovanni Figaro started out as a CAYLA intern. The 22-year-old now works in the Fiscal Services division, part of the City’s Finance Department. An extended internship with the City allowed him to have a flexible schedule that fit around his classes. Giovanni handles billing for City fire inspections, completes bank reconciliations for Transit and the US Cellular Center box office and enters City pet license deposits, among other tasks.
But this isn’t his first rodeo.
His first CAYLA experience was at the A-B Tech Business Incubator at the Enka campus, where he did a variety of tasks in the office, commercial kitchen and laboratory settings.
“For example I assisted in the development of a chewing tobacco substitute, interviewed many of the business start-ups housed in the incubator, and got to try my hand at cooking on a much larger scale than I ever had before,” he said. “Overall the experience taught me a great deal about strategies to become a successful entrepreneur and resources to help me if I choose to take that route.”
The next summer, he worked as a CAYLA intern at HomeTrust Bank. “Both of my experiences at HomeTrust and A-B Tech helped me develop valuable professional skills,” Giovanni said. “I am much better at networking, carrying on a conversation at a business lunch, respectfully and intelligently communicating with superiors and coworkers, organizing and planning out how to handle my workload.”
Students can participate in CAYLA for up to three years, but must reapply each time and compete against an ever-growing applicant pool. As Giovanni and other CAYLA alumni can attest, CAYLA is a lot like a family that offers unconditional support and guidance to its members well into the future.
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PHOTO at top:
Dank Campbell Jr. spent his summer internship at City of Asheville Meter Services. He’s shown here with Meter Services Supervisor Brandon Buckner.