Hope CAN CAMP Prepares Youth for Jobs, Life

Photo: Left, Tim Rice, Gary Cogar, Lurone “Coach” Jennings, Charreana Calloway and Yolanda Putman
Tim Rice and Tahliyah Binford

Hope CAN Summer Career Camp is neither a daycare nor a teen social club. Expectations are high.

The goal is to prepare students for the workforce Therefore, those who attend must be ready and willing to follow instructions. Students not willing will be sent home.

“I love you enough not to let you hang yourself and think the world is going to tolerate (bad) behavior,” said the Rev. Lurone “Coach” Jennings, the city’s former administrator of the Department of Youth and Family Development.

Jennings’ training ground is the Hope CAN (Community Action Network) Summer Career Camp, a five week camp that offers students academic, vocational and leadership skills and pays them $200 a week while they learn. Jennings said he’s grateful to his sponsors for making the camp possible.

They include Hope City Church’s nonprofit, Hope CAN, Chattanooga News Chronicle and Southern Prestige Paint Company.

Students also received a free chromebook and two weeks of free meals.

Tim Rice

High school freshman Tim Rice said the opportunity to get hands-on experience felt better than getting a paycheck.

“You can look at your work and say, ‘I did that’,” said Tim, who wants to be an engineer, but is also interested in journalism.

Tim and other participants in the first Hope CAN Summer Career Camp completed the program and held a celebration this week. Jennings plans to offer the same program next year.

Rising junior Charreana Calloway said she wouldn’t change anything.

“Being able to paint a church with a professional who knows what he is doing,” was one of the highlights of the camp, said Charreana, who aspires to be a doctor.

She also enjoyed writing for a newspaper and interviewing well-known people like DeAngelo Jelks who will face Greg Vital for the House District 29 seat on July 27.

Students and staff led daily Bible devotions to set the tone for the day. Jenning’s staff included a professional painter, Gary Cogar, who taught painting by letting students paint a church and a professional writer, Yolanda Putman, who taught writing by helping students prepare articles for the Chattanooga News Chronicle. Staff also included Curry Halliday, a UTC creative writing major, who assisted students.

Jennings, a former principal and coach, organized the camp this year just months after retiring as a city administrator. He said helping people is his calling.

Gary Cogar and Charreana Calloway

“My DNA is such that I want to make a difference and help people as long as I have an opportunity,” said Jennings.

The goal was to have five students this year. But not any five. Students had to meet standards and follow directions. Students wrote a letter expressing their desire for the job and received feedback concerning what they wrote. They appeared on zoom neatly dressed with cameras on and prepared for an interview. Students not willing to be on camera were not hired. And students who missed work didn’t make full pay.

“The things that we are learning at the camp teach us to get ready for the future,” said Charreana, who received feedback and revised her cover letter before getting in the camp.

It may sound tough, but following instruction is basic to job readiness, he said.

“If we’re not preparing them for the world of work and how to function and to work with people, then street life is going to suck them up,” said Jennings.

He hired one college student and three high school students. He sent one student home for not removing earbuds when asked. The student also refused to sit down.

He hopes dismissing the worker will give a tangible lesson that will stop the employee from refusing to obey basic instructions on the next job. Jennings’ biggest hope is to give all students, regardless of their background, the tools needed to financially sustain themselves in life.

“God blessed me to have a dream and a strong desire to overcome poverty through sports, education, hard work and people who believed in me,” he said. “I want young people to know it doesn’t matter the color of your skin or what neighborhood you grow up in. If you have faith in your dream and keep working hard for what you want you can achieve your goals.”

Please call Yolanda Putman at (423)602-0574 or email yoputman@gmail.com with your story ideas.