JACKSONVILLE, Florida (November 7, 2011) — Across the bright tile floors of the sprawling Baptist Medical Center walk teens from some of Jacksonville’s most challenged neighborhoods, learning about work, learning about discipline and learning about life.
They are participants in the Tipping The Scale program, an adolescent intervention program launched in the late 1990s by the hospital and a local nonprofit and sustained by more than $541,087 in funding from the Jessie Ball duPont Fund.
“These are kids from low-income neighborhoods without support systems and resources, many of whom are raising themselves,” said Davy Parrish, CEO of The Bridge of Northeast Florida and one of the founders of Tipping the Scale.
Tipping the Scale helps the teens overcome what Parrish calls “the great disconnect: It is a quantum leap for them to go from their world in the inner city to the state of the art environment at the hospital.”
Through extensive mentoring, exposure to real-life work situations and summer job opportunities, the Tipping the Scale students receive personal support, academic encouragement and support and preparation for college and/or career.
Since the program began in 1999, 816 youth have participated in the program at Baptist and 98% have completed high school. All who have graduated have gone on to college or career, said Lynn Sherman, Director of Community Health for Baptist.
Today, Tipping The Scale programs have spread beyond Baptist, with five other large Jacksonville employers offering placements for Bridge youth. In summer 2011, Tipping The Scale programs provided paid summer employment for 135 young people, said Parrish.
In November, Tipping The Scale was featured at the Southeastern Council of Foundations annual meeting in Amelia Island, Florida, as an example of programs “that improve academic achievement, employment opportunities and economic success for marginalized youth.”
Parrish and Baptist executive Carol Thompson founded Tipping the Scale when Thompson was on the board of the Bridge, a nonprofit that works to create better opportunities for youth from some of Jacksonville’s most impoverished neighborhoods.
The hospital was interested in mentoring, Parrish recalls, but she was interested in jobs for Bridge students. “I knew how much the kids needed something concrete,” she said.
They combined the two strategies — mentoring during the school year and paid jobs during the summer. The first year, about 10 teens participated in the program.
Hospital staff embraced the teens and the program enthusiastically. Staff carefully structured a curriculum for the students and prepared and coached the mentors. The hospital’s chaplain staff was engaged to add a spiritual component and build an atmosphere of trust. Recognition was abundant, and parental involvement was encouraged.
The mentoring relationships span three or more years, Sherman noted, and there is very low attrition.
The change in the teens, both Sherman and Parrish said, is remarkable:
“There’s a transformation,” Parrish said. “There is new confidence, a new sense of what is out there for them. There is a quiet pride — they don’t flaunt it. There is excitement about the money and what is going to happen over the summer. And there is concern about logistics — transportation and lunches – and a lot of work on time management.”
Sherman sees a growth in the teens’ “ability to understand responsibility and transfer it into action — that and their sense of possibility for their own lives.”
All of the Tipping the Scale teens come from The Bridge, and Parrish says competition for slots in the summer jobs program is intense. Applicants must qualify by achieving a certain grade point average (2.0 for Baptist placements) and then must go through an interview process.
“The day of the interviews is something else around here,” Parrish said.
Based on the success of the venture at Baptist, others have joine the program: Shands Jacksonville, the Jacksonville Electric Authority, Everbank and Lender Processing Services. Some have adopted their own version of the program, adapting the curriculum to reflect their different work environments.
“We are particularly proud of the work of The Bridge and Baptist in establishing a high quality program for these young people,” said Sherry Magill, president of the Jessie Ball duPont Fund. “It is gratifying to see how the program has grown and been accepted by others in the community. It has been our pleasure to offer support.”
The Jessie Ball duPont Fund makes grants to more than 330 eligible organizations identified by Mrs. duPont in her will. The Fund has assets of more than $281 million and has awarded more than $303 million in grants since 1977.